Evaluation of selection methods and efficacy in on-farm breeding of organic wheat and oat varieties

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. In 2013, in collaboration with the University of Manitoba, our non-profit organization initiated the first ever national PPB program to develop wheat and oat varieties in collaboration with organic farmers. Agronomic data from the program indicates good performance and high yield of the farmer-selected varieties under organic conditions. However, we do not have a strong set of data relating the agronomic outcomes to farmer selection practices and to the program methodologies. Our research project will document how farmer-selectors have contributed to genetic improvement for organic production for wheat and oats and share that information with existing and prospective PPB participants across the country. We will also document and evaluate the strengths and limitations of the PPB partnerships that underpin this particular program. In doing so, we will ensure that new organic PPB programs can be improved based on the experience of farmers. We anticipate that outcomes will include improved knowledge of selection practices for all of the stakeholders in the program, as well as improved methodologies and increased adoption of PPB by a broader range of organic farmers.