Activity 3

Evaluation of farmer-selected wheat, oat and potato genotypes under organic production in eastern and western Canada.

Dr. Helen Jensen, Bauta Family Initiative, discussing Fusarium Head Blight with farmer selectors in Quebec

Project Introduction

Well-managed organic grain systems can produce significant environmental benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, increased biodiversity, better water quality, and greater energy efficiency. Part of a well-managed organic system is to grow the best adapted crop varieties. In 2011, we started a farmer participatory plant breeding program that was expanded in 2013 to include farmers across Canada (Entz et al., 2015). By the end of the 2017 growing season, over 50 farmers will have completed 3 years of selection (F3 to F6) on wheat, oats and/or potato. Research from other parts of the world has demonstrated that farmers selecting on their organic farms resulted in better adapted genetic material (Kokare et al., 2017). In the Netherlands, for example, farmers have been successfully involved in participatory breeding of potato cultivars in collaboration with researchers and industry partners for many years (Almekinders et al., 2014).

This is a Canadian first; no other plant breeding program of this scale has involved farmers so intimately in the plant breeding process. Crosses for this work were conducted by AAFC and contract plant breeders. Parents were selected based on their quality traits, disease resistance, agronomic properties, market potential and organic farmer preference. We now have 55 wheat, 40 oat and 11 potato populations available. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how farmer-selectors have contributed to genetic improvement for organic production in these crops, and contributes to the development of a new breeding model for Canada.

Field performance of these farmer-selected lines will take place in the Prairies, Ontario-Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Farmer-selected lines will be tested in replicated field experiments located on organic farms and on research centres where land has been managed organically. Graduate students will be engaged in several aspects of the work including a detailed assessment of crop yield stability and stress tolerance including climate adaptability. We will also conduct genetic studies aimed at understanding the nature of the farmer selection process and how different farmers selecting from the same population shaped their lines differently based on their local conditions and their particular circumstances.

Farmers became engaged in this project for a number of reasons including the desire to help professional plant breeders produce better varieties for organic production. Professional plant breeders will be engaged to evaluate the farmer-selected lines for possible inclusion in their own organic wheat or oat breeding programs.  Another end user of the project is food processors such as millers and bakers. The food sector will be engaged to explore opportunities for farmer-selected varieties in the marketplace, and will be invited to conduct quality analysis on the crops grown in our field experiments.

Graduate and undergraduate students will have the opportunity to study in this novel project, thereby preparing themselves for a career in integrated food systems where farmers play a more central role in new variety development.

Almekinders, C., L. Mertens, J.P. van Loon, E.T. Lammerts van Bueren. 2014. Potato breeding in the Netherlands: a successful participatory model with collaboration between farmers and commercial breeders. Food Security 6: 515. doi:10.1007/s12571-014-0369-x

Entz, M.H., A. P. Kirk, I. Vaisman, S. L. Fox, J. M. Fetch, D. Hobson, H. R. Jensen, J. Rabinowicz. 2015. Farmer Participation in Plant Breeding for Canadian Organic Crop Production: Implications for Adaptation to Climate Uncertainty. Procedia Environmental Sciences 29:238-239.

Kokare, A. et al. 2017.  Comparison of selection efficiency for spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) under organic and conventional farming conditions. Crop Sci. 57: 626-636

Additional Information:

Final Report Summary

At the outset of this project, there were no dedicated breeding programs in Canada aimed specifically at organic production, even though research had demonstrated that the crop variety needs of organic grain and potato farmers were different than those of farmers growing crops within the conventional paradigm. Another impediment to dedicated organic breeding programs in Canada was the expense, especially since organic production occupies a relatively small area in the country.

This project took aim at both of these challenges using a coordinated approach. First, we collaborated with professional plant breeders who were able to create the genetic diversity using parents that both farmers and breeders agreed would be well-suited to organic production.

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Name Affiliation
Martin Entz (Activity Leader) University of Manitoba
Helen Jensen SeedChange
Jennifer Mitchell Fetch Brandon Research Centre, Manitoba
Benoit Bizimungu AAFC Potato Research Centre, Fredericton, New Brunswick