The Value of Farmer-based Participatory Plant Breeding for Organic Systems

Monday, July 22, 2013: 3:30 PM
Springs Salon F (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Micaela Colley , Organic Seed Alliance, Port Townsend, WA
John P. Navazio , Organic Seed Alliance, Port Townsend, WA
Jared Zystro , Organic Seed Alliance, Port Townsend, WA
As organic farming becomes more prevalent, organic farmers are seeking varieties specifically adapted to organic agriculture. While there are numerous models that may be successful for organic breeding, there are several reasons why farmer based participatory plant breeding (PPB) holds promise as a model for organic breeding. The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is developing effective, farmer-participatory breeding methodologies that can serve as model for other programs. PPB is defined as breeding based on methods that involve close farmer-researcher collaboration to bring about crop genetic improvement. PPB is a collaborative effort between a farmer-breeder and a formal-breeder. It is a decentralized approach and commonly conducted on working farms. Farmer-researcher collaboration leverages the strengths of both parties to create useful varieties in an efficient manner. The best farmer partners are experts in their crops and cropping systems, and are often better than researchers at identifying the requirements for a new variety. Successful PPB projects value an active farmer involvement in the breeding process. The breeding objectives, selection criteria, and ideal time to evaluate traits are based largely on input from the farmer. Also, in organic farming, many of the advances in production are due to farmer’s rapid adoption of new techniques, so farmer partners are often the best equipped to identify the most up-to-date production systems to test in. The appropriate breeding methodology is supplied from the formal breeder. The breeder is instrumental in determining appropriate field plot design, calculating heritability of traits and performing statistical analysis. The strengths of the PPB model rest on these two elements: farmer-research collaboration, and decentralization of the breeding process onto farms. By fostering this collaboration, PPB offers an economical way to encourage the adoption of varieties adapted to low-input organic agriculture. OSA’s breeding program forms strong collaborations with organic farmers for on-farm breeding of open-pollinated varieties for organic agriculture. Examples of successful PPB projects include; 1) a cold soil tolerant sugary-enhanced (SE) sweet corn; 2) a drought and wind tolerant zucchini; 3) a cold hardy, powdery mildew resistant red kale; and 4) a cold hardy, uniform winter sprouting broccoli. Farmers decided the breeding priorities and participated in field breeding with OSA’s formal breeder. These projects demonstrate the feasibility of developing a commercially viable, open-pollinated variety through on-farm, participatory breeding methods.