A Vermont farmers breeding club: developing varieties that work for us

Final Report for FNE07-613

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2007: $7,950.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Jack Lazor
Butterworks Farm
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Project Information


Currently there are few cereal varieties being developed for organic farmers in New England To
address this situation organic farmers were trained to make their own wheat crosses and learn
how to make selections from their new populations under organic management. Dr. Stephen
Jones (Washington State University) provided a "hands-on" breeding course to fanners. In May
of 2007. 19 heritage varieties of spring wheat were planted on a Vermont farm. The plots were
one-row and seven feet in length. To select potential varieties for crossing" we evaluated the
varieties 4 weeks prior to harvest and at harvest. The varieties were evaluated for stand ability,
disease, general appearance, height; head size. and leafiness. From those results the top 10
performers were selected for crossing by the Washington State Wheat Breeding Program. The FL
progeny from these crosses were seeded in the spring of 2008 in Vermont As a result of this
project, we learned the real meaning of Participatory Plant Breeding. We continue to work at
increasing seed lots of the 19 heritage wheat varieties. The goal is to be able to distribute the

best heritage wheat and crosses to local farmers. We expect that this goal will be met in the next
2 to 3 years.


There have been no changes to the farm since the project started. A minor change was the
addition of a grain elevator and planted 20 acres of winter wheat. Generally we do not plant
winter wheat on our farn. My family and I operate Butter works Farm a 60 cow organic dairy
in Westfield, Vermont. We have owned our 300 acre farm for 30 years. Our milk is processed
on the farm into yogurt, cream, and cheese. The products are sold locally and regionally. We use
managed intensive grazing practices and store high quality forage for the winter months. In
addition, we grow a variety of grains including com soybean, barley, oats, rye, and wheat. The
grains are fed to cows, our family, and some are processed and sold locally for chicken feed,
flour, and cornmeal
For the past 4 years, Butter works Farm has been involved in the breeding and selection of
open-pollinated com in northern Vermont. We have offered our Vermont strain of "Early Riser
Com" to farmers for planting in 2005 and 2006. We have been able to improve stand ability and
days to maturity with our selections. I am also a seed saver of dry beans and cereal grains. Many
of the bean and grain varieties available to producers in Vermont are not suited for our region
and our organic production systems.
In addition, I am a founding member of the Vermont Organic Seed Initiative. Like others
in our group, I have shared my knowledge of grain and seed production with many farmers in
Vermont, New York, and Canada. Our workshops have helped us garner tools to make basic
selections from populations in the field; however, we have not gained the knowledge to actually
breed varieties. It is "the goal of the Organic Seed Initiative to bring these tools and skills to
Vermont so we can begin a Farmers Breeding Club and develop our own grain varieties. We

have gotten quite proficient at saving, cleaning and, processing cereal seeds. However, the
varieties always come from somewhere else, and we are limited in our choices. Varieties adapted
to our region would improve farm sustainability by allowing for improved yields, disease
resistance, and a higher quality end product, and reduced seed costs. The Vermont Organic Seed
Initiative has over 30 active participants and many are interested in learning and developing
these skills. It is for this region that I would propose a training program for farmers to learn
breeding and selection of cereal and forage crops.

Project Objectives:

In order to develop a Vernont Fanners Breeding Club we will need to acquire breeding
skills and techniques. To begin we will start with a wheat breeding project There is considerable
interest in selecting improved varieties to develop wheat of high baking and animal feed quality
and suitable for our climate. We are interested in growing and selecting from modem cultivars
and other heritage varieties such as 'Red Fife' to develop our own wheat varieties.
To acquire "hands-on" breeding skills we will attend an intensive short course on wheat
breeding methods during the summer of 2007 under the supervision of Steve Jones - wheat and
cereal breeder at Washington State University. We will also meet fanners in Washington that
are working on their own breeding projects. We will bring our seeds of knowledge back to the
fanners of the Organic Seed Initiative and pass along the skills needed to make new varieties to
fanners across the region. During the winter of 2007, Dr. Jones will visit Vermont and work
with the Organic Seed Initiative to develop a 5 year on-farm wheat breeding program. During
the spring of2007, Butter works Farm will seed a small plot with common local cultivars and
promising material from the WA wheat breeding program. Upon returning from the "hands-on"
training we will practice our new techniques on Vermont ground. Success will be measured by
the number of successful crosses that our smaller group can make on the given population.


Materials and methods:

In the winter of2007, Steve Jones attended our Vermont Organic Grain Producers meeting in
Bridport Vermont. Dr. Jones taught us some
basic breeding skills while in Vermont. We
made a plan to develop our own wheat
breeding project in Vermont. We obtained
18 heirloom wheat varieties and 1 modem
commercial variety for our wheat breeding
project. We received 4 varieties :from North
Dakota State, 10 varieties :from Washington State, I variety :from New Brunswick 3 varieties
from the USDA gennplasm repository, and I variety :from Quebec.
Wheat Variety Trial List:
North Dakota: Emmer, Mida 2006, Mida 2005, Ceres 2005
Washington State: Reb Bobs, Reliance, LaDoga, Thatcher, Marquis, Hope, Komar, Spinkota,
Supreme, Scarlet
USDA Repository: Defiance, Champlain, and Surprise (originally Vermont varieties from 1886)
New Brunswick: Red Fife
Quebec: AC Barrie
The varieties were planted in replicated plots on May 4,
2007. The plots were one-row and seven feet in length.
The wheat seed was planted to a depth of one-inch and
eight-inches apart. We sowed cover crops between the
two replicates. The plots were hand weeded weekly.
Wheat was seeded around the plots. The border consisted
of Emmer and Dylan wheat. Dylan wheat is North
Dakota's first released variety of the Plains Farmer Breeders Club.
In late June, Dr. Heather Darby, Seth Johnson, and I attended a three
day short course at Washington State University. On the first day we
met with Salvatore Ceccarelli a world renowned barley breeder from
Syria. He talked to us about participatory plant breeding in the Middle
East. In the afternoon, we toured the Washington State wheat
breeding trials. We learned about the relationship between cultural
factors, soil fertility, nitrogen efficiency and wheat breeding. We also
pollination bags, and photos.
learned the process used to develop varieties such as
Bauermeister. Dr. Jones and his assistant Kevin Murphy
educated on the challenges associated with organic weed
breeding. Lastly, we were able to view and talk about the
perennial wheat breeding program.
. On the second day. we learned how to make wheat
crosses. First we were given potted wheat plants from the
greenhouse that was just ready to flower. Dr. Jones taught
about wheat flower morphology and the process of
emasculation and crossing. Than it was our turn! We took
are potted plants and began to cut, slice, and yank out the
various parts of the flowering wheat. Once we finished
emasculating, we than crossed the female ",with a male
counterpart. Dr. Jones sent us on our way with a bag full
of plant breeding tools. He gave tweezers, scissors, labels,
In the afternoon, Dr. Jones crew brought us to meet the
local wheat farmers from his participatory breeding
program. We were able to "view a variety that was being
developed by Lexi Roach the granddaughter of Jim
Moore. Jim is a wheat farmer in Kahlotus, Washington.
Lexi started her wheat breeding project when she was in
grade school. She will begin her college career at Washington State University this year.
The third day, we returned to the plots and Kevin Murphy explained his selection strategies for
organic wheat breeding. We returned to Vermont enthusiastic and ready to make our first
As soon as we returned the wheat was ready to be emasculated. Pollen shed was days
away. Our first crosses were made by potting plants from the field and making the crosses in our
farm greenhouse. The first cross was AC Barrie x Red Fife. Once we had some practice under
our belt we felt it was time to move to the trial plots. This is when we met our match. The first
day we made our crosses the weather was hot and humid. There was
thunderstorm in the making. We spent the entire morning
emasculating wheat plants mostly by random selection. The first day
we did 40 emasculations. We returned 2 days later to make the
crosses. To cross we cut a head (male) from one variety and inserted
into the pollination paper bag of the emasculated female. We
crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. It rained and the wind
blew. A few days later we returned and most of the bags had been
blown off the plants. We continued to emasculate and make crosses on some of the later
a wide range of maturities even within a plot. The weather
remained to be a challenge. We received 8 inches of min in
July. Needless to say we had few successful crosses. Our
only success was the cross that was made in the greenhouse.
Before harvesting, we conducted a visual assessment of all
of the varieties. Our plan was to identify strengths and
weaknesses of each variety in the trial. We evaluated the
varieties for stand ability ~ disease, general appearance~
From these results we selected the top 10 performers. We
,'""'u, • ..,"" ... After talking with Dr. Jones, he recommended that we harvest
our trials and send him seed and the crosses we had hoped for in our project. Below is a Jist of
the top wheat varieties in our trials and the crosses that Dr. Steve Jones will make for us in the
greenhouse this winter.
AC Barrie x Red Fife
Red Bobs x Champlain
Red Bobs x Surprise
AC Barrie x Surprise
AC Barrie x Champlain
Hope x Red Fife
AC Barrie x Defiance
Hope x Champlain
Seeder (see photo). The plots were 2.5 x 25 ft
in size. Larger plots of Emmer, white wheat,
and hulless barely were planted in the same
two acre area for evaluation. Plots were hand
weeded in mid-June. Additional weeding as
needed was provided throughout the summer.
Quackgrass was the major weed issue and
removal was extremely difficult
In 2008, Dr. Jones provided us with seed
from the aforementioned crosses. On May 2,
2008, these crosses were planted in single
row plots with 8 inches between the plants
and 12" between the rows. We received
approximately 10 seeds per cross :from Dr.
Jones. In addition, the seed we saved from
the 19 varieties harvested in 2001 was
planted out into larger plots in 2008. These
plots were seeded with a Carter Grain Plot
The wheat from our plots was harvested on August 25th

2008. The crosses were hand harvested with garden
pruners and threshed by hand. These FL populations will
be reseeded next year. Essentially. this phase is to
increase the seed quantity of each cross. In 2009, we will
plant these FL populations. Our harvest in 2009 win result
in the F2 generation. In 2010, we will plant the seeds of
each head of wheat in its own individual row - ~'head row".
It will not be until 2010 that we will be able to
select out plants that exhibit negative traits. The primary
lessons that We have learned from this project are:
1. Developing new varieties takes time. We have
learned from Dr. Jones that development of a new variety can take between 7 and 10
years. We are only in our first few years.
2. Plant breeding works best in a controlled environment.
After conducting this project, I believe our role as farmers is to make selections from a large and
diverse population of genetic material
provided to us from plant breeders. For
instance, it would make the most sense for the
plant breeders to provide us with the already
developed F3 generation. At this point we
could trial the population, do selections and
increases for future variety development.
Of the 19 original varieties we have been
working to increase the seed quantity. We
started with 100 seeds of each type. It has been difficult to evaluate the agronomics and quality
potential of these varieties due to the small size of the plots. This year we planted plots that were
2.5 x 25 ft. This season we were able to harvest the wheat with a plot combine (Almaco SP50)
and had yields between 2-5 lbs tor each variety. We have continued to evaluate the varieties
through visual assessments. A 1 (poor)-l0
(excellent) scoring system is used to
evaluate stand ability~ disease incidence,
head size, leaf size, height, and overall
appearance. We have not eliminated any of
the original 19 whom varieties form our
trials. However, some varieties stand out
above the rest Our favorites include
Scarlet, Lagoda, Marquis, Thatcher, Mida,
and Surprise. Next season we will plant out larger plots to more closely simulate normal field
conditions. We expect that it will take another 2 years before we have enough to share with
other farmers.

Research conclusions:

This was a great project! It allowed Vermont farmers to make contacts with wheat breeders and
other industry representatives. It created a good deal of fellowship. Our initial intent was to learn
about wheat breeding and work towards the development of adapted varieties. We now
understand the complexities of breeding but still fell that in a few year’s time we will have our
own variety as. well as a good amount of heirloom seed for field production. We plan to continue
working on this project after the termination of this grant Our plans were outlined above.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The ideas and results of this project have been shared with
multiple organizations. The project was presented at the
NOFA-VT Winter Conference in February of 2008. I also
presented information at the Vermont Organic Grain
Growers Meeting in March of 2008. I have worked with
Dr. Darby to publish several articles in local newsletters.
On July 29th
, 2008, we hosted a workshop titled "Growing
Organic Wheat for Feed and Food". The day long workshop included a presentation by Dr.
Steve Jones. Washington State Wheat Breeder. highlighting OUT participatory wheat breeding
project Heather Darby and I described OUT wheat breeding experiences. Everyone was able to
view the wheat varieties that we have been evaluating for the last two years. A workshop flyer is
attached to highlight the agenda for the day. There were 75 attendees that included fanners :from
Canada, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. This winter we will present the project
at the NOF A-VT winter conference, and at the Canadian Organic Cereal Grower's Conference in
Banff, Alberta.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.