Influence of the Seed Loophole and Bottleneck on Quantity and Quality of Organic Maize Seed in the U.S. Midwest

A. Bryan Endres, Juan E. Andrade Laborde, Martin O. Bohn, Alice K. Formiga, Walter A. Goldstein, Emily E. Marriott, Carmen M. Ugarte, Michelle M. Wander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A case study in the U.S. Midwest explored factors likely to be limiting organic maize, aka corn seed quality and quantity. We sought to learn about the influence of the regulatory loophole which allows use of conventionally produced, untreated, non-GMO seed for organic production when an organic equivalent is unavailable and, the organic sectors' concerns about access to quality seed, and seed price. Two farmer focus groups, a workshop with seed producers, a survey of merchants of organic maize seed, and a research project advisory board suggested that the degree of concern about the loophole and seed quality varied according to participants' priorities. Farmers equate seed quality with agronomic traits impacting grain yield and crop establishment (vigor, emergence and tolerance to cultivation). Traits influencing grain quality or composition for specific uses, and the ability to satisfy consumer wants were more important to buyers. Seed price was of greater concern to farmers and buyers catering to commodity markets than to producers and buyers serving de-commodified markets. Producers that prized yield most highly were less concerned about the loophole or interested in participatory on-farm breeding and testing networks than farmers catering to specialty markets. Despite interest, little information about nutritional quality, rhizosphere function, and ecosystem service provision is circulated outside of academic groups. A workshop with leaders in the organic seed improvement industry and advisory board input identified the inability of inbred lines to withstand weed, pest, and disease pressure as the main bottleneck increasing costs and limiting investment in organic seed improvement. The cost differential between organic-and conventional non-treated seed, and competition from organic grain imports, were believed to be limiting the price of certified seed, thus making it difficult to garner investment and innovation needed to develop desired agronomic, environmental, or grain-quality traits. An audit of seed sales reported by >90% of U.S. vendors of certified seed found that the volume of organic seed being sold may account for as much as 75% of organic maize acreage planted in the U.S. Costs of non-treated seed sourced through the loophole are 40-100% less than certified seed. With 75% of U.S. organic corn being produced using certified organic seed, we conclude that the loophole is not altering seed quality by undercutting organic seed sales. Substantially higher costs of organic seed production and challenges associated with organic seed production appear to be the most likely barriers to maize seed improvement for the organic sector.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number763974
JournalFrontiers in Agronomy
StatePublished - Mar 2 2022


  • maize diversity
  • organic maize seed
  • organic seed loophole
  • parent lines
  • participatory networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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