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Farmer Driven Breeding: Addressing the Needs of Southeastern Organic Field Crop Producers

Reberg-Horton, S Chris
North Carolina State University
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Long-term Goal: The long-term goal of this project is to increase the sustainability of organic agriculture by insuring continual improvement of the genetic base for organic field crop production.

Improvement of this organic genetic base depends on: (1) participation of public breeding programs to address the needs of organic field crop producers; (2) improved regional breeding networks for sharing and testing of advanced crop lines designed for organic field crop production; and (3) increased farmer involvement in the organic variety development process.

Objectives: To achieve this long-term goal, the following three main objectives are proposed:

  1. 1. Involve farmers in identification of traits advantageous in organic systems and screen lines for those traits for incorporation into breeding programs.
  2. 2. Institutionalize sharing and testing of regional advanced lines of major agronomic crops under organic conditions and utilize on-farm testing to integrate organic producers into the variety release process.
  3. 3. Create a mechanism for organic farmers to interact with public plant breeders and have their concerns addressed.
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Non-Technical Summary: The long-term goal of this project is to increase the sustainability of organic agriculture by insuring continual improvement of the genetic base for organic field crops. The proposed project seeks to institutionalize a system for organic field crop breeding, organic on-farm testing, and annual meetings with organic producers and breeders to evaluate and update variety development efforts. The impetus for this project grew directly out of a series of farmer panel discussions hosted by North Carolina State's Organic Cropping Systems Program from 2006 to 2008. At these panel discussions , farmers voiced concern over increasing privatization of breeding, decreasing availability of GMO-free varieties, and lack of breeding under organic conditions. The short-term benefit for the breeding program will include: 1) establishing relationships between organic producers and breeders; 2) inclusion of organic testing in breeding protocols; 3) bolstered support for public breeding programs; 4) increased business investment confidence to Southeastern industries needing local organic grain supplies; and 5) improved methods for organic crop breeding. The long-term benefits will include: 1) increased organic acreage, improved yields and profit for organic producers (even a 10% yield grain will result in millions of dollars for regional organic producers and processors); 2) stable feed sources for organic animals; 3) reduced dependence on genetically modified crop varieties; 4) reduced dependence on high input agriculture; and 5) a more genetically diverse foundation for organic agriculture.

Approach: Soybeans. Screening of 500 diverse and previously untested soybean genotypes from Asia, the ancestral home of soybean, for weed competitiveness under organic conditions will be done at agricultural research stations in North Carolina. Plots will be over-seeded with pigweed seed immediately after planting for uniform weed pressures. Standard varieties will also be included as controls in testing. Non-destructive screening tactics will be carried out along with visual ratings of genotype performance. These screening tactics, which include overhead photography and image analysis, will be based on previous North Carolina State University research that identified soybean traits and canopy measurements most correlated with weed competitive ability. Newly-developed, advanced, non-GMO breeding lines will be yield tested on-farm under organic testing conditions. Corn. Population development will be initiated with three-way crosses using corn genotypes NC476 and NC320.NC368. Single crosses will also be conducted with NC476. Top-crossing will be carried out with new back cross progeny to appropriate testers. NC368 will be crossed to earlier inbred lines. Wheat. Approximately 50 advanced generation lines and released cultivars of diverse parentage will be evaluated for allelopathic activity at research stations in North Carolina. Experimental design will consist of a randomized complete block design with three replications. Plot sizes will be approximately 3 m by 1.5 m with 0.14 m row spacing. Plots will be over-seeded with annual ryegrass immediately after planting for uniform weed pressures. Peanuts. Approximately 150 peanut genotypes will undergo greenhouse screening for seedling disease resistance. Experimental design will be an incomplete block with 3 replications. Pots will be filled with potting soil artificially infested with a mixture of seedling disease fungi (Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, Pythium, and Aspergillus niger). Each pot will be planted with 10 untreated peanut seed. Temperature and moisture conditions conducive to the development of disease will be maintained. Genotypes will be evaluated based on percent survival, disease presence, and vigor ratings. Seed will be increased for lines showing resistance to seedling diseases. On-farm organic variety tests for all four crops will be operated in a similar manner. The breeder and postdoctoral researcher will plant the variety test plots in measured areas utilizing a cone planter designed specifically for research. The farmer will maintain the plots during the growing season using routine organic management. The breeder and postdoctoral researcher will harvest the variety test plots utilizing a research plot combine to obtain precise yield data for each variety. The research group and farmer will coordinate all activities and maintain communication throughout the season.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Natural Toxins
Bacterial Pathogens
Nuts, Seeds