Rationale: Organic farmers in the Northeast have minimally benefited from the yield increases of modern wheat cultivars bred for conventional systems with agrochemical protectants, in weather and soil conditions vastly different from ours. Nutrition and flavor are not key traits in modern cultivars but are a primary concern for value-added organic markets. Although farmers are the original breeders, plant breeding is a lost art for today’s farmers. There are no public wheat breeders in New England. Performance Target – Of 120 growers who participate in the program, 60 will trial new grain varieties on over 1,000 organic acres, resulting in increased yield, quality, sustainability and profit from improved genepools adapted to organic systems. Of the 60, at least 24 will trial and select grains, and use promising wheats as the basis of enhanced direct market partnerships with local bakers. ‘Northeast Organic Wheat’ will conduct a participatory organic wheat trialing and selection program to address Northeast growers’ unmet needs for varieties adapted to our local conditions and markets. A working group of organic farmers, wheat breeders, extension, millers and bakers will identify goals, trial promising world-wide varieties, and select the superior wheat populations for traits contributing to yield, disease resistance and quality in organic systems. Criteria will include: height for weed competition, yield as measured by grain weight per plant, health as an indicator of resistance to local diseases and resilience to weather extremes. Flour will be evaluated for nutritional value, loaf volume and flavor. This project will train farmers in the knowledge and practical skills of on-farm trialing and selection to re-invigorate superior landraces, to adapt diverse wheat populations to NE organic systems, to identify superior modern wheat varieties best adapted to organic systems, and to lay the foundation to develop new uniform varieties with consistent quality for artisan bakers. We will disseminate our methodologies, improved wheat genepools and results to researchers, cooperative extension, organic farmers, and foster regional market linkages with millers and bakers. This project represents a community-based approach to strengthen our NE regional grain supply.
Performance targets from proposal:
a) Core 18 member breeder-extension-farmer-baker team identify key selection goals, establish at least one experimental trial plot per state to increase genetic diversity using existing ‘composite-cross genepools’ that combine elite landraces genotypes crossed with superior modern cultivars,
b) Of 120 participating farmers, at least 60 are trained in on-farm wheat trialing and selection, and strengthen community seed networks by exchange of germplasm and practical breeding and wheat systems knowledge and skills.
c) 24 organic farmers establish strip-trials of promising varieties to screen on their own organic farms,
d.) 24 farmers, 12 artisan bakers and a laboratory cooperate in selecting for wheat quality by conducting flour quality and taste-tests.