Screening Open-Pollinated Vegetable Varieties Bred and Released In North Dakota for Suitability to Organic Production Systems and Local Markets

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $17,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Theresa Podoll
Prairie Road Organic Farm
Steve Zwinger
North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center
Marvin Baker
North Star Farms

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, celery, cucurbits, parsnips, peas (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes


  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital, social networks

    Proposal summary:

    Many open-pollinated varieties released prior to 1970 by NDSU vegetable breeding program and the North Dakota based seed company, Oscar H. Will & Co. are no longer commercially available. These varieties were bred and selected for North Dakota’s climate and growing conditions; many of Oscar H. Will & Co.’s offerings were seeds obtained from Native American people’s indigenous to this region. “Choosing the right plant for the right location is one of the most critical factors in both gardening success and ecological stability.” (Cornell, 2006). The number of farmers markets in North Dakota has increased from 30 in 1980 to 49 in 2009. With the development of farmers markets and localized food systems, seed producers and farmers serving these markets seek to identify varieties with agronomic traits suited to organic production systems and quality traits of interest to local and regional markets. The goal of this two-year project is to increase the number of varietal choices well suited to organic production systems and local markets in North Dakota. Objective 1: Screen a minimum of 60 vegetable varieties for agronomic and quality traits of interest to North Dakota market growers (10 per farm per year). Objective 2: Identify at least twelve North Dakota bred, open-pollinated varieties of vegetable crops with agronomic and quality traits of interest. Objective 3: Facilitate seed increases of at least nine varieties based on variety trial results and farmer’s market taste tests. Methodology A survey will be conducted during the North Dakota Farmers Market & Growers Association (NDFMGA) Annual Meeting (February, 2010) to identify vegetable crops with few varietal choices suited to growers production and market needs. Varietal descriptions of releases from North Dakota State University (1926-1991) and varieties bred and selected for the Oscar H. Will & Co. seed catalog (1896-1969) will be researched. Varieties of interest will be included in variety screening trials to be held in 2010 and 2011. According to Oscar Will’s great-grandson, Oscar H. Will III, over 60 of Oscar H. Will & Co.'s introductions are available through the Germplasm Resource Information Network (GRIN) system. Heirloom seed catalogs and seed saving organizations, such as Seed Saver’s Exchange, Abundant Life Seed Foundation, and Seeds of Diversity Canada will be researched for NDSU and Oscar Will varietal releases as well. Dr. Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, NDSU High Value Crop specialist, and Dr. Larry Robertson, Vegetable Curator, USDA – ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit, will provide assistance in acquiring seed for these varieties through the Germplasm Resource Information Network (GRIN) system. Dr. John Navazio, Organic Seed Alliance, and Organic Seed Extension Specialist at Washington State University, will serve in an advisory capacity to the project and will serve as a liaison to the NOVIC project. Each farmer participant will conduct vegetable variety screenings of at least ten varieties per year, planting, maintaining, monitoring, and documenting performance and results using photos and variety evaluation forms (See Appendix A and B). A combination of quantitative (eg. height, yield, or fruit size) and qualitative data (eg. seedling vigor, color, flavor, disease and pest resistance, and uniformity) will be collected. Each variety’s growth, traits, and performance will be photographically documented two times during the growing season. The results will be compiled by the project leader. Seed will be saved from at least nine varieties over the life of the project, distributing it to four or more interested farmers' market growers and seed growers, as supplies allow.

    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.