Selecting for Resilience in Low-input Potato Cropping Systems: Connecting Farmers and Breeders with the Genetic Resources of an Underutilized Potato Germplasm Collection
The goal of our organic potato research program, which began in 2007, is an integrated, participatory potato breeding, variety evaluation and seed potato production system that serves the needs of the approximately 220 organic and low-input potato farmers in the Midwest. Modern potato varieties have been bred using conventional practices and may not be suited for organic and low input production systems. Our first objective is to evaluate 100 potato varieties for their immediate value in low-input and organic potato cropping systems, and for the resilience of their performance across multiple environments in a participatory trial. We initially planned for 12 participating farmers, but have had over 30 participate. They evaluate variety performance with guidance from researchers, focusing on traits such as plant vigor, pest and disease resistance, yield, taste and market appeal. Varieties are also evaluated in disease nurseries located on University research farms for their resistance to common potato diseases. Our second objective is to use modern genetic tools to characterize the diversity of these potato varieties to determine the potential for crop improvement through a breeding program for low-input cropping systems. Information on potato production and variety characteristics will be provided to growers and researchers through farming conferences, peer-reviewed publications, a project website http://labs.russell.wisc.edu/organic-seed-potato/) variety descriptions as Wikipedia pages, and printable fact sheets. Development of a participatory variety trialing and seed production system requires building a community. In addition to evaluating our project by its scientific output, we will evaluate it by interviewing participating farmers and undergraduate students throughout our project to identify and address challenges and opportunities that occur during this project.
Objective 1: Evaluate potato varieties for their immediate value in low-input potato cropping systems, and
for the resilience of their performance across multiple environments.
In 2014, we trialed heirloom and specialty potato varieties from Seed Savers Exchange, the US Potato Genebank, and other potato collections with 35 organic farmer and gardener partners from 6 states (ND, MN, IA, WI, MI, OH). Each farm grew a subset of the 50 trial varieties plus check varieties, planting ten seed pieces of each variety. All varieties were grown in replicated plots at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station (WMARS) on organically managed land, and at one of two central Wisconsin organic farms with many years of potato growing expertise. Varieties were evaluated for emergence, vine vigor, pest and disease impacts, and yield and tuber quality, and several farms evaluated taste. Varieties differed for vine vigor, pest and disease impact, and tuber yield and quality. We saw site-to-site variation, attributable to differences in management and growing conditions, but some varieties were standouts at many locations. Varieties that continue to be promising included Early Bangor (red), Fenton Blue, Elmer’s blue (purple fingerling), Early blue (purple skin, pale flesh), Stef Yellow Flesh, Gold Coin and Epicure Banana (yellow), Black Russian (fingerling), Australian Crawlers, Gui Valley, Early Epicure (white).
We produced seed potatoes for 67 varieties on organically managed WMARS land, and a subset of these will be distributed to participating farms for 2016 trials. Trials at WMARS will continue in 2015, in addition to seed potato production for 2016 trials. Finally, we continued to recruit farmers for variety trialing. We are attempting to switch to a mostly participatory model and have seen a significant increase in gender and ethnic diversity of participating farmers.
Objective 2: Characterize the genetic diversity of potato varieties to determine the potential for crop improvement through a breeding program for low-input cropping systems. In 2013, we initiated work on AFLP analysis of the genetic diversity of a portion of the Seed Savers Exchange potato collection, but we were disappointed with the method. We are in the midst of obtaining SNP data with the SolCAP potato array to evaluate this potato collection. We anticipate having the data later this summer.
In 2014, we completed participatory trials on over 30 farms in 6 states and we produced enough seed potatoes from 67 lines for field trials in 2015. Seed potatoes will be produced from additional lines that were currently only available as tissue culture plantlets in 2014. DNA has been extracted for the SolCAP SNP array and we anticipate receiving data from this experiment in the summer of 2015.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In the past year, the impacts of this project include:
- outreach visits to participating farms in WI, MN and ND, including educational presentations to participating and interested farmers and students;
- a presentation at the WMARS organic field day (approximately 150 participants);
- a poster presentation and round-table discussion with farmers at the MOSES Organic Farm conference (Feb 2015);
- workshops or talks at three farmer education meetings (MOSES Organic Farm Conference, Indiginous Food Conference, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower Education Conference) lduring the winter of 2014/2015
- continued development of a website and blog for disseminating information about our project (organicpotato.wisc.edu).
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1630 Linden Dr
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082653056
Scientist and Professor
USDA - UW-Madison
1575 Linden Dr
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082628324