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Seed derogations: the facts

Seed derogations: the facts

It may seem too early to think about seeds for autumn planting when we have just been through a slow and irritating harvest, but this is the reason that it's worth thinking about.

Issues with seeds this autumn

There may be seed quality issues, particularly with some varieties which have been affected by late season ear disease or late harvest with a reduction in germination below the legal standards.

Seed availability may be tight and so it is worth talking to suppliers now rather than in October. Although the Organic standards do allow recleaned, untreated non-organic seeds this is subject to an approval from your certification body and needs to be justified and obtained before seed is used.

There are 6 reasons why a derogation may be given, and ‘my seed rep says this is good’ isn’t actually one!

The 6 justifications for derogation are:

1) No variety of the species which I want to use are registered in the UK organic seed database (see

2) The seed supplier is unable to deliver the seed or seed potatoes before sowing or planting despite ordering the seed.

3) The variety which I want to use is not registered in the database and I can demonstrate that none of the registered alternatives of the same species are appropriate for my production (you will need to indicate the reason they are not appropriate).

4) If there is justified use for
- research purposes
- to test in small-scale field trials
- for variety conservation purposes.

5) The seed is part of a grass or forage mix containing at least 70% organic seeds.

6) Seed for seed production

Approving applications for seed derogation

There is no guarantee that the certification body will approve applications using option 3 particularly if there is organic seed available. The specific rule around forage seeds allows grass species and herbs with very small inclusions to be added, alternatively they will be very expensive or unavailable in organic mixtures. There was a temporary reduction to 50% in 2020.

These derogations are useful for organic farmers because they allow access to new varieties and new crops. There are often people who experiment in organic systems, and each year there are applications for soya, sunflowers, oilseed rape and lupin seeds as well as for new, and old cereal varieties. We cannot have a new organic crop without starting from a conventional source. Last year’s pre harvest hailstorm also meant that a lot of organic oat seed was lost, so derogations were needed to replace that. Many organic farmers will choose a new variety and grow a small area to try it out and to be a source of farm saved seed for future years. There is currently little research on organically suited varieties although seed breeders are beginning to look at varieties suited to organic thanks to the Innovative Farmers trial and the Liveseeds project.

We have to source organic seeds where possible, companies selling organic seed have committed to a variety that they think will be a good organic variety, often as a result of their own trials and their efforts should be supported.  There are also opportunities for farmers to produce for seed companies, often for a contracted premium price.

Find out more

Full details of derogations granted in 2020 can be found on the OrganicXseeds's UK Annual Non-Organic Seed Authorisation Report.