Bringing Small-Grain Variety Development and Selection onto Organic Farms

2004 Annual Report for LNC02-201

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $72,953.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $33,069.00
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Patrick Carr
Montana State University

Bringing Small-Grain Variety Development and Selection onto Organic Farms


Spring wheat and oat cultivars were compared on two certified organic farms in Minnesota and two certified organic farms in North Dakota for a second year. Cultivars of both small-grain crops were identified that are adapted to environments managed organically. A working group of organic producers and land grant scientists formed to continue efforts at developing and selecting cereal cultivars for production in organic environments.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Develop scoring tools and skills needed for cooperating farmer and university researcher/educator teams to assess small-grain cultivar performance in low purchased input/organic environments.

Identify small-grain cultivars from existing germplasm that are best adapted to low purchased input/organic environments.

Form a multi-state farmer-to-researcher working group on breeding and selecting small grain cultivars for low purchased input/organic environments.


Objective 1: Organic producers and land-grant scientists were asked to compare 17 spring wheat and 10 oat cultivars for adaptation in certified organic fields on commercial farms in northwestern Minnesota during site tours of field experiments in 2004, following a similar procedure used in a site tour at the Richardton, ND, location that was described in the progress report for 2003. Briefly, producers and scientists were given a questionnaire asking them about the importance of conducting cultivar adaptation studies in organic environments upon arriving at a site. Producers and scientists then were divided into groups and led to the small-grain cultivar adaptation studies, where the groups were asked to rate each of the cultivar plots visually for growth and reproductive potential using a relative ranking system. The groups then were asked to rank 13 different growth traits along with grain yield, grain quality, straw/stubble production, and the impact on succeeding crops in order of importance when selecting a cereal cultivar. Identities of the cultivars were revealed and each entry was discussed after growth traits were ranked by each group. Prior to leaving the site, blank copies of the questionnaire handed out upon first arriving at the site again were filled out to determine if attitudes had changed about the importance of cultivar adaptation studies after providing the field training.

Objective 2: An interaction between cultivars and locations was observed for both spring wheat and oats across the field experiments in 2004. However, trends in data were observed for plant growth and reproductive traits. Old cultivars (i.e., developed and released prior to 1970) generally were lower yielding than many modern cultivars in three of four organic fields. Grain yield was similar between modern and old cultivars at one location, presumably because dry conditions compressed yields and reduced the ability to detect differences. These data along with those generated in 2003 suggest that many modern cultivars are better adapted than old cultivars to environments managed organically if grain yield is an indication of adaptation.

A seed lot produced under organic management and a seed lot produced under conventional management were compared for two spring wheat cultivars at all four locations in 2004. Seed lot selection failed to affect grain yield of either cultivar at any location. These data suggest that seed lot type (conventional vs. organic) may not affect cultivar performance as long as overall seed quality is similar between both types (e.g., kernels are similar in size, plumpness, viability, etc.).

Objective 3: A working group of organic producers and crop scientists was expanded to include both private and public plant breeders, as a result of a meeting in Fargo, ND, in October 2004. A mission statement for the working group was developed. As a result of the meeting, a proposal to build upon results of this project was submitted for funding consideration.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Results of this project were provided to organic cereal producers in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Several organic growers already have based selection criteria upon preliminary results generated by this project.

Significant training of organic producers in cereal cultivar selection occurred because of this project. A cadre of organic producers with knowledge about the proper design and management of cultivar adaptation studies was formed. Knowledge was generated on the growth traits that are most important when determining which cereal cultivars are adapted to fields under organic management.

Drafts summarizing results of this effort are being prepared for publication in refereed journals. Among other things, these journal articles should help to legitimize the practice of selecting cereal cultivars in environments managed organically in the north central region.