Activity 11

Participatory variety trialing and breeding for commercial organic vegetable growers and seed producers in Canada

Summary

This project contributes to the resilience and growth of Canada’s organic vegetable sector through the characterization and development of varieties that excel in regional organic farming systems. Canadian organic vegetable producers primarily use seed varieties that have been bred for conventional, high-external input systems, yet these varieties often lack traits important for organic production and markets. This situation presents a strong need to develop domestic seed systems that improve the ability of Canadian organic vegetable growers to access varieties that suit their needs. It also creates new economic opportunities by helping Canadian seed producers to capture the market niche of domestic organic vegetable seed. Engaging organic vegetable growers in developing unique new varieties through participatory plant breeding can serve both these ends by introducing varieties that are developed by and for the Canadian organic vegetable sector.

In order to build the capacity for vegetable breeding focused on organic systems in Canada, the proposed research will engage directly with organic farmers to develop new varieties, while also advancing broader understandings of the factors that contribute to variety performance in organic systems. We will build on a collaborative varietal development research network consisting of organic farmers, university researchers, and industry stakeholders to 1) evaluate existing commercial varieties and breeding lines of select vegetable crops for agronomic and quality traits well-suited to Canada’s heterogeneous organic farming conditions; 2) collect crop functional trait data that will be used to assess crop trait response to environmental stimuli and key traits for performance in organic systems; and 3) implement an on-farm participatory plant breeding program to create new breeding populations and finished varieties of three crops, including carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus, bell pepper (Capsicum annuum), and either tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) or squash (Cucurbita spp). In addition, the data on crop functional traits gathered from the variety trials will permit identification and selection of genotypes that can serve as donors of favorable traits in future participatory breeding programs.

These activities will support a comprehensive knowledge transfer program on variety performance and in-depth training in on-farm plant breeding, improving the ability of organic farmers to engage in future variety development. This will support the organic sector goals of increasing competitiveness, productivity, and resilience to climate extremes through improvements in regional organic vegetable variety breeding efforts, as well as advancing public good through increasing the regional agricultural biodiversity of Canada’s seed system. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to ensure that Canadian organic vegetable farmers and seed producers have access to high quality vegetable seeds that can perform competitively in Canadian organic farming systems.

Results and Materials to Date

  • Keeping Our Seed Pathogen-Free
    • Presented by Dr. Lindsey du Toit at the BC Seed Gathering in November 2019. The presentation was livestreamed to farmers across Canada

Activity researchers

Name   Affiliation
Dr. Hannah Wittman (Activity Leader)

University of British Columbia, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm

Vancouver, BC

Dr. Alexandra Lyon (Activity Leader) University of British Columbia - Vancouver, BC
Dr. Loren Rieseberg University of British Columbia, Botany and Biodiversity Centre, Vancouver, BC
Dr. Andrew Riseman University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
Dr. Marney Isaac University of Toronto Scarborough, ON
Dr. Helen Jensen USC Canada, Ontario
Dr. Michael Mazourek Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Laurie McKenzie, MSc Organic Seed Alliance, WA

Micaela Colley, MSc

PhD candidate

Organic Seed Alliance, WA
Dr. Lindsey du Toit Washington State University Extension, Mt. Vernon, WA
Aabir Dey, M.S. USC Canada, Ontario