Participatory Plant Breeding for Organic Systems
Organic Seed Alliance promotes and supports the practice of on-farm Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB), wherein organic farmer-breeders work in collaboration with university, nonprofit and private industry plant breeders to breed and/or improve plant genetics for organic systems. A successful PPB program will create incentives, methods, and benefits that validate and encourage farmers to take a lead role in germplasm development. This decentralized model of plant genetic development can efficaciously and economically supply organic producers and processors with the crops that they need.
Organic growers need varieties suited to local, organic farming conditions with the genetic elasticity necessary for continual adaptation to shifting climatic, environmental, and energy constraints. Participatory plant breeding offers an opportunity to provide such germplasm along with skills necessary for continual variety selection and adaptation. It offers the dual benefit of developing varieties under organic field conditions while combining the technical expertise of formal plant breeders with farmer’s insights into farming systems constraints and needs.
In participatory breeding projects, there is a true partnership between a farmer who has an intimate knowledge of the production and market demands of a particular crop and a plant breeder well versed in these needs and in the appropriate field breeding techniques to develop varieties that address these needs. It is an equal partnership. The farmer understands how the crop responds to the challenges of their environment and the agronomic traits needed to excel under those conditions. They also know what horticultural traits are essential for their markets. The classical plant breeder knows how to isolate those traits and how to test the new crosses “on farm,” relying on the farmer’s expertise to select the best material as the farmer gets to intimately know the material over the course of the season. The farmer’s selections are increased and re-tested with final selections and seed increases made with the farmer’s input.
OSA Participatory Breeding Projects
For highlights of OSA’s current and recent PPB projects, click on the crop name below.
We have current or recent breeding projects in a variety of vegetable crops including tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, sweet corn, kale, arugula, winter squash and summer squash. Year to year we work on different crops (as funding and time allow) – evaluating varieties, restoring older varieties, selecting for improvements and breeding innovative new materials. We work in participation with organic farmers, organic seed companies, and professional plant breeders. We will announce release of materials as they become available.
Our PPB projects are funded via grants, private donor gifts to the OSA general fund, and occasionally through seed company contracts. Please, consider supporting this program by donating to Organic Seed Alliance.