Collaborative Breeding for and in Organic Systems
Plant varieties bred in and for organically managed systems are the missing link in the organic production chain. Organic agriculture currently relies on varieties bred, selected and trialed in conventionally managed production environments. These varieties are then tested informally and anecdotally by organic growers to find good performers. In recent years due to a pronounced consolidation of the global seed industry, the range of variety choices are dwindling, thus some of the very best varieties for organic growers are no longer available. Many varieties bred under conventional management may perform poorly under organic growing conditions due to the fact that organic growers are limited in what type and amount of inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) that they are allowed to use. It has been demonstrated through millennia that farmers can be excellent breeders when given the resources and knowledge. By linking public plant breeders with organic growers and organic seed companies and doing collaborative on-farm breeding, selection and trialing, new organic varieties will be developed that are better adapted to regional and organic growing conditions and meet farmers’ needs. This will lead to greater sustainability for the organic farming community in the northeast.
We began this project by holding a series of regional organic breeding roundtable sessions in the fall of 2004 that brought together organic farmers, breeders, and seed companies throughout the Northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania. The growers and other attendees developed consensus identification of critical organic breeding needs that form the foundation for at least six collaborative on-farm organic breeding projects as required by our SARE proposal. Eight projects involving 17 growers and three breeders in New York and Maine were started in spring of 2005 and will culminate at the end of the grant with at least six advanced breeding populations for each major breeding project. Eight on-farm field days and twilight tours were held throughout the 2006 growing season involving at least 286 growers, researchers, and seed company representatives. These were held to educate and inform growers in plant breeding and to engage growers as active participants in the selection and breeding of the new varieties.
Through 3 variety roundtables a minimum of 6 growers, 3 regional seed companies, and 3 public breeders will collaboratively develop a minimum of 6 advanced breeding populations that will meet growers’ variety needs and improve their long-term sustainability and viability.
Milestone 1 Sixty organic growers, 5 seed company representatives, and 5 public breeders attend 3 variety roundtables (20 growers/meeting) in Maine, New York and Pennsylvania to identify specific breeding objectives for priority vegetable crops.
In the fall of 2004 we held three roundtables in Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. We also had a shorter brainstorming discussion at the Restoring Our Seed annual conference in Brattleboro, Vermont. A total of 56 farmers, 5 breeders, and 7 seed company representatives participated in these successful brainstorming sessions (see appendix). Fedco Seeds, Seeds of Change, Pine Tree Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Harris Seeds, High Mowing Seeds and Turtle Tree seeds were all represented. The roundtables involved farmers, breeders, and seed companies coming together to discuss what new and improved vegetable varieties organic farmers need. This involved growers sharing how they make variety choices for their farms including what traits are important, what vegetables groups need the most improvement and what their main challenges are for each important vegetable group. The growers then came up with three different lists of varieties that would help them. These included: varieties that are no longer available but growers still want to use, varieties that are very good but need some improvement, and concepts for new varieties with unique characteristics that define new breeding goals.
We involved 56 growers rather than our predicted 60 but found having slightly smaller groups worked very well in the roundtable discussions. Results of the roundtable were sent to all participants and additionally Territorial Seeds, West Coast Seeds, and Genesis Seeds. The Results were also given to the 75 participants of the 2005 Restoring our Seed Conference, were handed out at many of our events in 2005, and are available on the Organic Seed Partnership (OSP) Website (www.plbr.cornell.edu/psi/OSPbreeding.htm). We continue to solicit organic breeding needs from growers when we meet them at conferences, workshops, and on-farm twilight tours. There is also a link on the Organic Seed Partnership website where growers can email their requests.
Milestone 2 Three public plant breeders form partnerships with 6-10 organic farmers to begin collaborative breeding projects.
The three funded Breeders (Molly Jahn, Walter De Jong, and Mark Hutton) continued breeding projects in organically managed environments as part this project. There were a total of 8 projects this year directly involving a minimum of 35 growers.
Improved CMV Resistant Early Bell Pepper (Molly Jahn with Mark Hutton): This project builds on two years of breeding we had already begun before the initiation of this award. With this support, we have continued toward the goal of a CMV resistant, early, great tasting bell pepper. Building on a successful 2005 field season peppers for 2006 were grown predominantly on organically managed sites with the remaining peppers (less than 5% of total) planted at conventional sites managed by George Moriarty on research ground assigned to Jahn’s program (Cornell Department of Plant Breeding). About 1 acre of peppers were planted in total, Organically managed sites used in this program include: The Cornell University Freeville Organic Research Farm (certified organic), University of Maine Highmoor Farm, 12 organic farms in New York State, and one seed company (Turtle Tree Seeds). One participating farm, Peacework Organic Farm, has been a cooperating farm since the beginning of this breeding project. The 2006 field season with its very wet weather was in direct contrast to the previous years hot and dry weather giving us another good year to access progress and make selections. Additionally pepper plants at the Freeville, NY location were screened with CMV prior to be placed in field that helped improve the chance for selecting for CMV tolerance. Selections from the 2006 field season are currently being screened for CMV resistance in the greenhouse over the winter of 2006-07 and the F4 through F7 generations will be available for growers, researchers, and seed companies to trial (and select from) for 2007. We have several lines that are close to being stable. We will utilize the same main sites and also include additional farmer participation.
Improved Costata Romanesca squash (Molly Jahn): This project builds on initial squash crosses that were performed at Cornell in the winter of 2003-4, at the request of organic farmers. The goal of this project is to produce a Costata Romanesca type squash with improved disease resistance and compact bush plant habit that retains the original taste of the squash. Building on the progress from the 2005 field season we grew out 20 F4 generations from crosses originally made between Costata Romanesca and the Cornell University developed varieties PMR Caserta and Success PM. Additionally we grew out a new F2 population of a cross we made between Costata Romanesca and Romulus PM in 2005 and then grown out in the greenhouse over the winter (2005-06). Squash was grown on predominately organic sites with the remaining grown at conventional sites managed by George Moriarty on research ground assigned to Jahn’s program (Cornell Department of Plant Breeding). Organically managed sites used in this program include: The Cornell University Freeville Organic Research Farm (certified organic) and 4 organic farms through a coordinated effort with NOFA-NY. Controlled pollinations were performed at the both Cornell sites and selections were made, based on our original goals and input from the cooperating growers. We have selected out and are stabilizing several improved lines that look like Costata Romanesca as well as some with novel fruit colors. The F5 generation is currently being screened for PMR in the greenhouse and those with high tolerance will be planted in Freeville and with cooperating growers in 2007.
Improved Heirloom melons (Molly Jahn): Our goal is to produce a more disease resistant, high yielding melon while maintaining the best traits of the heirloom parents. Building on the progress from the 2005 field season, in 2006 we grew out F4 generations from crosses originally made between heirloom melons (Collective Farmwomen and Golden Gopher) that had been crossed with six Cornell disease resistant varieties including PMR Delicious 51. Additionally three growers grew out and selected from F2-F4 populations as part of the spring 2005 OSP seed requests coordinated by NOFA-NY. At the Freeville Organic Farm we made self-pollinations and fruit assessment on promising lines. We are currently screening the 2006 selections for PMR in the greenhouse. We will continue advancing these populations and making selections in 2007.
Improved Heirloom Cucumbers (Molly Jahn with Mark Hutton): Our goal is to breed a more disease resistant Boothby’s Blonde cucumber. In 2006 we planted out F3-F5 generations of Boothby’s Blonde Cucumber crossed with the Cornell developed, highly disease resistant, Marketmore 97 at the Cornell Freeville Organic Farm, conventional sites managed by George Moriarty on research ground assigned to Jahn’s program (Cornell Department of Plant Breeding), and at 4 cooperating organic farms. Controlled pollinations were performed at the both Cornell sites and selections were made, based on our original goals and input from the cooperating growers Cooperating Breeder Mark Hutton also grew F2-F4 generations at Highmoor Farm in Maine during the summer of 2006. Seeds from 2005 selections most closely resembling Marketmore 97 were distributed to 5 Maine organic farmers. Initial feedback was favorable. Forty-five Maine vegetable farmers evaluated the breeding material at Highmoor farm first in early August and then again in mid-September. Interest in the Boothby’s Blonde material was mixed while the more traditional Markemore types were viewed with more interest. We have selected out several powdery mildew resistant lines that closely resemble Boothby’s as well as several new novel types. We are making steady progress toward both a more disease resistant Boothby’s type cucumber as well as other novel types. We are currently screening for PMR and resistance to four viruses in the greenhouse over the winter of 2006-07. We will continue growing out and selecting from advanced generations in 2007.
Improved Prudens Purple Tomato (Mark Hutton): This is a continuation of a project started (and continuing) by the Restoring Our Seed Project (USDA- NESARE funded). The goal is to develop and select a more disease resistant great tasting Prudens Purple type tomato. Seed of the 2005 selections were distributed to 6 organic vegetable growers in New England and one organic seed company. The seed company is using the improved University of Maine Improved Pruden’s Purple as a catalog offering in 2007. No generation advancement was made in the tomato breeding program at Highmoor Farm in 2006 due to cool growing season and we experienced early season problems in the greenhouse and lost all our seedlings. This problem was compounded by the cool wet summer resulting in poor growth in the field and delayed maturity. We were able to make disease evaluations on the breeding lines and will concentrate efforts in 2007 on the superior lines identified in the 2006 growing season. We will continue to select and stabilize promising breeding lines in 2007.
A Superior Organic Broccoli (Mark Hutton, Mark Farnum, Jim Myers): The goal is to select a broccoli that does well under organic conditions and meets the needs of organic growers. The OP broccoli program made good progress in 2006 and was expanded to include a trial with material provided by Seeds of Change (organic seed company). In this study side-by-side fields, one organic and one conventional were planted with 18 varieties including hybrids, OP’s and di-haploid breeding lines. The object of the study was to evaluate multiple traits in an effort to identify key traits for selection in organic systems.
Early generation selection of potato clones under organic conditions (Walter De Jong) This project seeks to determine whether it is more efficient to identify potato clones adapted for organic production by conducting all evaluation – not just replicated yield, on an organic farm. It is a well-known breeding maxim that the best way to identify a clone adapted for a particular environment is to select it in that environment. Nevertheless, a significant practical difficulty with potato breeding is that clones need to be multiplied for many years before a decision can be made about release. During this time there are many opportunities for clones to become infected with viruses, reducing yield, or other more serious pests such as late blight, that can wipe out limited seed stocks and preclude further evaluation. Which issue ultimately proves dominant – the advantage of selecting in the target environment, or the risk of serious disease – remains to be seen.
In 2005 we planted over 600 clones at Sabol farms in Ovid, NY, and in conjunction with Richard Sabol, selected 50 (27 novelty colored, 23 whites and yellows) for further evaluation. These 50 were planted again in 2006, in plot ranging from about 5 to 50, depending on how much seed was available. An additional 762 clones, all with colored skin and/or flesh combinations, were planted as single-hill plots in 2006. The latter clones were grown from botanical seed in pots in 2005, and have not previously been evaluated in the field. We focused on colored-types in 2006, as these garnered the most interest from the proprietor the previous year. At harvest, we saved fourteen of the first- year clones and five of the second-year clones, for continued evaluation in 2007. Sabol’s will be providing samples of some of the second-year clones to their customers at farmers market, to secure feedback on culinary quality. In addition to the clones saved in 2006, we intend to plant additional new clones on the Sabol operation in 2007, making additional selections in the fall.
A Leafhopper Resistant Potato for Organic Systems (Walter De Jong): The goal is to evaluate leafhopper resistant potato clones under organic conditions. The clones were developed and selected at Cornell University in previous seasons under conventional conditions. Because potatoes are clones, breeding in potatoes consists mostly of evaluating the variety under many different seasons and locations rather than stabilizing a variety like in most other vegetable plant breeding. In 2006 fourteen clones, many of them with resistance to leafhoppers, were evaluated in a replicated yield trial at Starflower Farms in Candor, NY. The best performing yellow-fleshed clone was Keuka Gold, a yellow-fleshed variety previously developed at Cornell. At 343 cwt/acre, it yielded 33% more than Yukon Gold (256 cwt/acre). This is the second year running where Keuka Gold has handily beaten Yukon Gold in yield, and is consistent with many trials we have conducted under non-organic conditions. The best yielding white clone (375 cwt/acre) was NY131. NY131 is an early-maturing clone with some resistance to potato leafhoppers. Based on its performance in the Starflower Farm trials, Jim Gerritsen’s experience in growing it in Maine, and our experience in non-organic trials at Cornell, the decision was made to name and release NY131 as “King Harry” in fall of 2006. Organic seed of King Harry will be available from Wood Prairie Farms beginning in Spring 2007. We plan to continue to evaluate advanced clones in replicated yield trials on organic farms in 2007. Making recommendations about which potato clones are best invariably requires several years of data.
Milestone 3 A total of 80 farmers and 3 seed company representatives attend on-farm field days (6-10) for each year at each breeding site and learn breeding and selection techniques and make early generation selections in collaboratively produced breeding populations.
For 2006 At least 286 people, including at least 50% farmers, participated in 8 separate on-farm field days or twilight tours. Seventeen seed companies were represented. Each event included a walk through of the on-farm breeding projects, a description of breeding techniques, and the opportunity for participants to provide input into the breeding process. Most of the events provided the opportunity for growers to learn and practice on-farm breeding techniques. We also presented results and conducted workshops at 3 different conferences.
On January 27, 2006 over 50 farmers and gardeners attended an all day grower’s breeding workshop entitled “ Crop improvement for your farm and garden.” This was a pre-conference workshop to the annual NOFA-NY winter conference. Michael Glos and George Moriarty taught practical pollination techniques.
On July 12th, 2006 25 educators from 6 states came to the Freeville Organic Farm as part of an Advanced Organic Training (funded by SARE PDP). As part of a whole farm tour Michael Glos showed off the SARE funded breeding plots and explained the organic breeding projects.
On August 1st, 2006 seventy-five organic farmers, extension agents, and researchers attended a tour of the Cornell Freeville Organic Farm that included our organic breeding. Michael Glos explained the projects to the participants and received input on the projects goals and progress.
On August 11th, 2006 along with Teri Ferrin (USDA) and Elizabeth Dyck (NOFA-NY) Michael Glos presented a one and a half hour breeding workshop entitled “Breeding better vegetable varieties for the Northeast.” This included teaching breeding techniques and describing the organic breeding projects funded by NESARE. Twenty growers and gardeners were in attendance. This was part of the 32nd annual Northeast Organic Farming Associations Summer Conference in Amherst, Massachusetts.
On August 22nd, over 30 farmers and gardeners attended an on-farm workshop at the farm of Ken Ettlinger (Flanders Bay Farm- Long Island, NY). Michael Glos spoke of the SARE supported breeding, answered breeding questions, and helped farmers get involved in the breeding projects. Ken showed some of the breeding and selection he is doing from breeding material acquired from our breeding projects.
In early August and then again in mid-September 45 growers evaluated the Boothby’s Blond cucumber breeding at the Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, ME. Mark Hutton showed growers the SARE funded breeding projects.
On August 28th, 2006 30 people representing 17 seed companies toured our organic breeding plots at the Freeville Organic Farm. This was part of the Vegetable Breeding Institute’s Annual Seedsmens’ Field Days. The Vegetable Breeding Institute is a unique industry consortium with 33 member seed companies that include all the large and medium size companies and many small companies located all over the world. Many of the seed companies, although currently not marketing to organic farmers, expressed interest in breeding and marketing varieties for organic markets and the potential the organic markets may hold for their businesses. Following the official tour Michael Glos walked through the breeding plots with representatives of two exclusively organic seed companies.
On September 5th, 2006 31 farmers, gardeners, and researchers attended a “Community Seed Day and Trial Evaluation” at Norwich Meadows Farm in Norwich, NY. Michael Glos talked about the status of the SARE funded breeding and had participants taste-test melons from the melon breeding project.
On September 16th, 2006 32 participants attended an afternoon tour at Peacework Organic Farm in Newark, NY. Participants learned about pepper breeding techniques and toured this grower’s pepper breeding plots that are part of the Improved CMV Resistant Early Bell Pepper project. Farmers also demonstrated squash pollinations on populations from the Costata Romanesca breeding projects.
On September 22nd and 23rd, 2006 Michael Glos attended the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Common Ground Country Fair in Unity Maine. With staff from the USDA-PGRU he helped farmers and gardeners clean seed and answered on-farm breeding questions.
On October 21st, 2006 27 people attended a “Community Seed Day, Plant Breeding, and Trial Evaluation” at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project in Poughkeepsie, NY. Greg Inzinna (Cornell Department of Plant Breeding) talked to growers about the SARE funded breeding projects and instructed growers in on-farm breeding techniques.
On November 8th, Walter De Jong presented his annual “Potato Show & Tell” at the Cornell Department of Plant Breeding Field House. This annual event attracted over 70 participants (mostly conventional seed potato and table stock producers) to hear the annuals results of potato breeding and trailing results from the current year. Walter presented the results from the SARE funded breeding projects including announcing the naming of the new “King Harry” potato.
Milestone 4 Each breeding collaborative will develop a minimum of 6 advanced breeding populations that will meet growers’ variety needs and improve their long-term sustainability and viability.
Although we have finished only the second year of a three-year project, we are currently progressing well towards this goal. For 2006 in addition to continuing to advance the breeding projects we will have advanced selections from the cucumber, melon, squash, and pepper projects that we will trial more widely with organic growers in the Northeast and seek their feedback.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We have successfully determined specific breeding needs from organic growers and seed companies that enabled us to begin the work to meet their needs. We will continue through the rest of the project to accomplish this breeding. We have met or exceeded all milestones involved with the project and are well on our way towards delivering the specific outputs required by this award.
As a result of continued trialing under organic conditions and networking with a seed company one of the potato lines that we have been extensively trialing as part of this project was named and is now being produced as organic seed under the name “King Harry” by Wood Prairie Seed company in Maine. The project allowed Cornell Breeder Walter De Jong to visit Wood Prairie owner Jim Gerritsen and better understand organic potato tablestock and seed potato production. As part the project we were able to provide Wood Prairie with conclusive results from trials on organic farms of our breeding lines so they could make the best decision of what new variety to carry.
As a partial result of his continued involvement in potato trials as part of a previous project (the Public Seed Initiative) and this SARE funded project, Andy Leed of Starflower Farm in Candor, NY has started producing double certified (certified organic and NY State Blue-Tag certified) seed potatoes. With his 2007 organic seed potato offering he will be the first grower to produce double certified seed potatoes in New York and this is an important step in expanding the availability of organic seed potatoes.