Initiation of a New Mexico Participatory Vegetable Breeding Program

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,571.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G336-20-W7901
Grant Recipient: New Mexico State University
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Charles Havlik
NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas
Dr. Bradley Tonnessen
New Mexico State University
Dr. Stephanie Walker
New Mexico State University


  • Vegetables: cucurbits, greens (lettuces), peppers


  • Crop Production: multiple cropping, plant breeding and genetics, seed saving, varieties and cultivars
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, quality of life, social capital, sustainability measures, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Practicing sustainable agriculture requires using less outside inputs and reducing environmental impact. In order to achieve this balance of productivity and resource frugality, a level of adaptiveness is demanded from both the crop and the farmer. For many vegetables grown in the U.S., generations of farmers saving their own seed resulted in the production of landrace varieties. These unique crops have evolved through selections made by the grower to promote tolerance to many stresses faced in a specific region. Currently, many of our efforts to publicly breed new vegetable varieties are focused on one location or institution, neglecting the diverse landscapes and climates that do not match these breeding sites. In addition, institutional breeding focuses on larger growers, and the cultural methods involved in large-scale production. These conditions are not the same for the small farmer, who grows for local markets and small food distributors. Many farmers in New Mexico are serving these small communities and are residing in different elevations and climatic conditions. We are proposing an initiation of the New Mexico Participatory Vegetable Breeding Program. The purpose of this project will be to educate and cooperate with small vegetable producers in New Mexico to create breeding and seed-saving operations on their own farms. The endeavor will help to increase and preserve diversity of crops grown in the state, as well as breed for hardiness in locally-adapted vegetables. This project aims to promote cultural heritage and local food economies through an innovative approach to plant breeding.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Development of breeding plans at each participant farm (Year 1)

    Each farm/farmer focuses on specific needs for their respective crop. Thus, decisions need to be made with consideration of the land, cultural farming methods, and climate pertaining to each location. Farm visits will be conducted by the PI to discuss breeding goals and to take initial observations of the focus crops.

    Outcome: Detailed plans for each farm indicating planting design, breeding workflow, data collection, and seed-saving strategies.


    2. Implementation of breeding plans (Years 2 & 3)

    This objective involves performing the annual process of planting, observing, selecting the best performers on the farm and in replicated field trials, seed-saving, and overall assessment of the growing season.

    Outcome: Increased self-sufficiency of the farmer with on-farm breeding skills. Seed obtained from plant selections for continuation of breeding plan.


    3. Education, outreach, and dissemination of results (Years 2 & 3)

    A workshop for basic breeding techniques will be given for all farmer participants at the end of the first year, during the annual New Mexico Sustainable Agriculture Conference in December. Presentations will be made about current status and updates during a special session at this conference at the end of years 2 and 3. Distribution of brochures pertaining to the project will be done at public events such as the NM Sustainable Agriculture Conference, farmer’s markets and field days. Social media content describing the process and benefits of the program will be developed and released to the public. Field days given at an NMSU Agricultural Experiment Stations will showcase the variety trials being done for the project.

    Outcome: An increased awareness across agricultural professionals and the general public about participatory vegetable breeding and the importance of locally-adapted vegetables.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.