OSCII Activity A.1

Participatory plant breeding and seed production approaches for Canadian organic crop production

Activity summary

The main objective of this project is to enhance the development of organic crop varieties by engaging farmers directly in the breeding process. The crops in question include potato, wheat, oat, and corn. Institutional plant breeders from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the University of Manitoba will provide segregating populations of all crops to organic farmers in different parts of the country. Farmers will spend a minimum of 3 years selecting within individual populations of wheat, oat, corn and potato. This work builds on existing farmer participatory breeding programs for corn (started 2010) and wheat (started 2011). The interaction between the farmers and the breeders will be conducted by a coordinator hired for the project and will be supervised and directed by Dr. Martin Entz, University of Manitoba working in concert with the farmers and plant breeders.

After the three years of on-farm selection, representative samples of the populations will be tested for yield, quality, disease resistance, etc. These “yield trials” will be conducted on AAFC and University of Manitoba research stations and on some organic farms. These replicated trials will allow the following questions to be addressed:

  1. How much do the same populations selected by different farmers differ in field performance, disease resistance, grain yield and quality;
  2. Do farmer selections perform differently than the same population selected by plant breeders in institutional nurseries; and
  3. Do farmer selected genotypes perform better than conventional varieties under organic production. 

These are novel scientific questions that have never been tested in Canada. 

This “new” process for crop breeding offers many advantages for the organic sector. First, farmer involvement will speed up the process by increasing the amount of selection that can take place in any one year. This is important since financial resources for breeding in niche sectors like organic are very limiting. Second, the on-farm nature of the work will allow selection to occur under “real live” organic farming environments. Finally, this breeding process offers opportunity for new business partnerships for farmers and plant breeders.

A second objective of the work focusses on research in organic carrot seed production. British Columbia has an emerging carrot seed industry aimed for organic production, but is limited by genetic contamination by “wild carrot” or St. Anne’s Lace. At the request of the BC organic seed industry, our program will conduct research on methods to produce high quality organic carrot seed across BC. Carrot seed crops will be grown in hoop structures to exclude pollinators. At the same time, pollinators will be introduced into the hoop structures to facilitate carrot pollination. This work will be conducted by a graduate student working together with four farmers across BC.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Martin Entz, Activity Leader University of Manitoba
Benoit Bizimungu Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Potato Research Centre

Jennifer Mitchell Fetch

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Brandon Research Centre
Maude Forté La Coop Agrobio du Québec
Lana Reid

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre