Providing Farmers the Technology Required to Efficiently Breed Corn Varieties Specifically Adapted to Alternative Cropping Systems
The primary goal of this pilot research and education program is to provide training and experience to a group of farmers that would give them the knowledge necessary to initiate farmer-led corn breeding programs. This goal was to be accomplished via a series of classroom and field-based workshops and via participation in on-farm selection program.
The project was advertised in the fall of 2003 through a mailing to over 300 farmers in Nebraska and western Iowa that were members of the Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society or Iowa Organic Crop Association, Western Branch. A description of the project also was placed on the internet. Approximately 35 applications were received, and from these 20 farmer participants from Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were selected. During 2004, 2 of the 20 farmers decided to drop out of the program, and during 2005 at least several more have apparently dropped out.
Two workshops were held in 2004 (see 2004 report for details). The training at the workshops was supported by written handouts, a dedicated “Blackboard” website that serves as communication vehicle between the staff and participants and between the participants themselves, and by 10 on-line lessons.
The primary activity in 2005 was the evaluation phase of a corn selection program. The purpose of this phase was to provide the farmers first-hand experience in generating data that could be used in a plant selection program. Also, the data will be used to teach some basic concepts in data analysis and interpretation. Seventeen of the farmers agreed to plant a micro-plot evaluation trial on their farms. Each trial consisted of two 1-plant (i.e., microplot) replications of 360 experimental and check hybrids. These trials were hand-planted by the farmers using corn hand-planters that were constructed using SARE funds and were provided to the farmers along with detailed planting instructions and seed of all the entries.
Management of the trials during the growing season was the responsibility of each individual farmer. At harvest, each farmer recorded the wet ear weight of each microplot using an electronic balance that was provided. These data and other harvest data (lodging, ears/plant, etc.) were sent to the University of Nebraska for analysis.
These data currently are being analyzed. If there is sufficient interest, a final workshop will be conducted in late March of 2006 for the purpose of i) reviewing the 2005 activities, ii) discussing the proper interpretation of the data generated from the trials, and iii) considering future plans (beyond the duration of the SARE grant).
In 2006, a subset of the experimental and check hybrids will be re-evaluated by the University of Nebraska in both micro- and standard plots to provide a second year of data.
The following were the primary objectives in calendar year 2005:
i) Have as many of the farmers in the group as possible plant, manage, and harvest a microplot evaluation trial on their farms. The purpose of these trials was to give hands-on experience in acquisition of data that could be used in a plant improvement program.
ii) Evaluate some of the test material in standard plots for the purpose of comparing the precision of this type of testing versus the microplot testing.
iii) Complete at least three additional on-line lessons, each of which contains material that covers concepts in genetics, plant breeding, and/or statistics that were presented to the farmers in workshops in 2004.
iv) Provide a learning experience for a M.S.-level graduate student in development of on-line lessons on agronomy-related topics and specifically in the creation and use of animation in these lessons.
i) Seventeen of 18 farmers agreed to plant a micro-plot evaluation trial on their farms. Each trial consisted of two 1-plant replications (i.e., microplot) of 360 experimental and check hybrids that were organized into 12 experiments. Each experimental hybrid was produced at the University of Nebraska in 2004 by crossing a plant of a population onto an elite inbred (each population plant also was self-pollinated to produce a S1 family). The trials were hand-planted by the farmers using corn hand-planters that were constructed using SARE funds and were provided to the farmers along with detailed planting instructions and seed of all the hybrids (seed for each replication of each hybrid was packaged separately in a small coin envelope). The farmers were provided training in the use of the hand planters during the 2004 field workshop. In addition to these 17 trials, I planted a micro-plot trial at three locations.
Management of the trials during the growing season was the responsibility of the farmers. In late August, I visited and inspected each of the farmer trials that had been planted. At harvest, each farmer recorded wet ear weight of each microplot using an electronic scale that was provided to them. These data and other harvest data (lodging, ears/plant, etc.) were then sent to the University of Nebraska for analysis. Grain moisture at harvest and shelling percentage, in addition to wet harvest weight, were obtained at two of the three trials that I planted.
For a variety of reasons, only 6 of the 17 farmer trials were harvested. Four farmers never planted their trials, two abandoned their plots at some time during the growing season, and five others sustained major environmental damage and could not be harvested. All three micro-plot trials that I planted were harvested.
ii) In addition to the micro-plot trials, 25% of the test material was evaluated in industry standard plots (1 plot = 2 rows x 20 feet). These trials were machine-planted and successfully machine-harvested at three locations.
iii) The on-line lesson that was completed in 2004, "Corn Breeding: Lessons from the Past" was submitted and accepted by the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education (JNRLSE). Three additional on-line lessons were completed and are now available at http://www.croptechnology.unl.edu. Each of these lessons is currently under review at the JNRLSE. Development of several other lessons was initiated in 2005.
iv) The M.S. graduate student who has assisted in the administration of this project since its inception and was a co-author of each of the four lessons submitted and/or accepted at the JNRLSE graduated in December, 2005.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Impacts and outcomes of the 3-year project will be evaluated in the final report.