The availability of crop varieties that are well-suited to organic management practices and to regional environmental conditions is increasingly recognized as crucial for the continued success of organic agriculture, including the ability of organic farmers to minimize environmental impacts and adapt to climate change. Participatory plant breeding (PPB), is internationally recognized as a methodology that works collaboratively with farmers to achieve this goal, but very few PPB programs currently exist in Canada.
Farmer Training Programs
This project supports three breeding projects in cooperation with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario’s Farmer-Led Research Program. All three projects focus on providing best practices to adapt to climate change by breeding varieties that are locally adapted to low-input organic systems for southern Ontario and the US northeast and meet identified needs of organic growers in the region. By supporting farmer-led breeding efforts for organic production, this project also contributes to an emerging but critically under-researched area of vegetable farming.
In this project I will continue to assess downy dildew (DM) resistant cucumber seedstocks, with intensified focus on evaluating and advancing the lines I selected in 2018 from Common Wealth Seed Growers’ DMR breeding population. This population performed very well in our 2018 trials, having the highest yield and best foliage ratings in the DM trial, and above average performance in the bacterial wilt (BW) trial. Because I am increasing focus on cucumbers, I am not including melon research in this year’s proposal.
Many of today's biggest agricultural challenges are social, as extensive research on best management practices is met with low rates of adoption. Bridging the gap between research and implementation requires moving past the quantitative, survey-based methods that are often used to answer questions about adoption and decision-making processes (Prokopy, 2011). Our study aims to promote successful utilization of best organic nutrient management practices by employing qualitative social science research.
Lentils are important for diversifying wheat-based cropping systems and are also beneficial in enhancing soil health. These benefits have contributed to the exponential growth in pulse crop acreage in The Northern Great Plains (NGP). There are several challenges facing organic lentil production. Lack of approved herbicide for use in organic pulse crop production provides a challenge to weed management.
North Carolina is the second largest producer of organic sweet potatoes in the U.S., with a rapid 42% increase in acreage transitioning to organic from 2014 to 2016. Despite a steady demand for organic sweet potatoes, marketable yield often does not reach the yield potential for this region due to challenges in weed, insect and soil fertility management. Through farmer consultation soil borne pests such a wireworm and weed proliferation were identified as two areas of concern for organic farmers in North Carolina.
Soil health is ideally a central part of organic farm management. One key question is how diversification practices (e.g., diversified crop rotations, cover crops, etc.) that build soil health influence how and when nitrogen is made available from soil organic matter. This question is particularly important to consider when determining the timing and choice of organic fertilizer application on diversified organic farms.
As the negative health and environmental effects of chemical soil fumigation become more apparent, it is critical to devise safe, alternative methods of soil fumigation. Organic growers constantly struggle with weed control and need innovative, chemical‐free weed management techniques.
In this project I will assess resistance to both Bacterial Wilt and Cucurbit Downy Mildew among selected cucumber and muskmelon seedstocks, and move forward with an ongoing project to develop a pickling cucumber that is resistant to both diseases.
Predicting the capacity of soil to supply nitrogen is an ongoing challenge in organic farming. Simple and affordable soil tests that can predict organic nutrient release are of particular interest for organic farmers, because organic farming exclusively relies on this microbially-driven process for crop nutrition. Emerging soil health measurements can shed insight into organic nutrient mineralization, offering organic farmers a better nutrient management tool.