Activity 2

Development of Breeding Strategies for Organic Soybean Production Systems in Canada


Currently, research effort in non-organic farming systems greatly outweighs the efforts in organic farming systems (ex. 99.6% of Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs - OMAFRA research funds). The situation is even more disproportionate when it comes to crop breeding efforts. The environment in an organic system is different from both non-organic and low input systems in terms of crop rotation design, pest management, fertility management, biodiversity and cultivation. Organic farming is an integrated approach which seeks to actively manage agroecosystems to enhance their crop production potential rather than rely on off-farm chemical inputs. Having access to appropriate crop cultivars that will perform well under organic production is a key component determining the competitiveness and success of organic farming operations. If one considers the large amount of scrutiny and optimization that conventional agricultural systems have been exposed to over the past 70 years and compare that to the level of research into organic, then the fact that organic yields are only 19 – 25% lower than conventional yields (Seufert and Ramankutty 2017) is remarkable.

Organic breeding tends to be underserviced by large breeding companies and the highly conventional and industrialized seed industry as a whole. The progress in organic plant breeding has been slow historically, and will most likely continue to be conducted almost exclusively by public sector researchers and breeders in conjunction with organic farmers or farmer-breeders. To address the above topics, two experiments were carried out in the Rajcan lab at the University of Guelph over the past four years. Experiment 1 included 30 and 33 food grade soybean cultivars from the maturity group 0 that were grown on an organic farm in Moorefield, ON, and a non-organic production system location at the Elora Research Station in Elora, ON. Experiment 2 was conducted by double blind selection of F5 and F6 breeding lines from two crosses: OAC Calypso x DH618 and OAC Sunny x cdc-T6. In brief, the results showed that there were significant cross-over effects observed between the performance of genotypes for a number of traits resulting, among others, in a differential yield ranking exhibiting crossover G x E effects. In addition, we have found that root morphology traits (root length and surface area, and nodule mass) differed among the cultivars but only at the organic site and were not significant at Elora (non-organic). This potentially indicated that gene expression for these traits was different on the organic farm as compared to the non-organic site. For the breeding populations, it was shown that one cross was better suited for the organic farm than the other and that only 21% of the F5 lines selected from one cross were selected in common between the organic and non-organic sites.

The main goal of the proposed research is to build knowledge on how to efficiently develop, through plant breeding, new soybean cultivars for organic growers to maximize their competitiveness, efficiency and volume of production such as yield. This will be achieved by growing breeding populations of soybean that have been developed from bi-parental food grade crosses and selected in previous years on contrasting organic and non-organic farms to develop superior new cultivars that can be grown by organic soybean farmers. The latter will reduce the cost of production and improve competitiveness and profitability of the organic soybean sector in Canada.

Seufert, V., & Ramankutty, N., 2017. Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture. Science advances, 3(3), e1602638.

Activity researchers  

Name Affiliation
Dr. Istvan Rajcan (Activity Leader) University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
Dr. Ralph Martin University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
Dr. Martin Entz University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB
Torin Boyle, M.Sc. Kwantlen Polytechnical University, Richmond, BC