Breeding an open pollinated broccoli for organic production systems using participatory methods Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/v692t940f

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  • Organic agriculture is an important and growing sector of U.S. and world food production. Consumers are increasingly aware of and interested in the production practices and impacts associated with agriculture and as such, are showing a preference for sustainably produced, raised, and harvested foods. In order to continue to meet the growing demand for organic produce, organic growers need cultivars that are optimally adapted to organic and low input conditions. Quality seed is the foundation of any functional and stable farming system. Unfortunately the lack of organically bred and produced seed is hindering the continued growth and success of organic farming. Meeting the needs of the organic sector has been a challenge for the seed industry; it is an industry that often doesn't understand the specific and unique requirements associated with the diversity of environmental and market demands of organic systems. However, organic farmers and the organic food systems they supply, require a robust organic seed system that is appropriately adapted to regional agronomic challenges and market needs, meets standards and regulations, and encompasses the social and ecological values of organic agriculture. One plausible approach to meeting the cultivar and seed needs of organic and low input production systems is through the use of participatory plant breeding (PPB). PPB is a collaborative approach for identifying and developing genetically diverse plant material and varieties involving partnerships among formal sector breeders and researchers, farmers, extension agents, educators, and end users. Participatory plant breeding fundamentally changes the way that formal breeding programs and farmers manage germplasm and plant genetic resources. Typically, formal breeding programs restrict access to germplasm and breeding materials and only supply farmers with finished varieties. In PPB, farmers are involved in the early stages of creation and evaluation of germplasm and breeding material, and stay engaged with the breeding process until new varieties are created. PPB is an excellent model for breeding specifically for organic systems because organic systems in developed countries have many similarities to low-input agricultural systems in the developing world. Some of these parallels include heterogeneous growing environments, a wide range of end uses and marketing strategies, lack of suitably adapted and/or derived varieties, lack of attention from the formal seed sector, and a reduced reliance on synthetic inputs (compared to conventional systems). Breeding for organic systems is a relatively young field and breeders in the formal sector do not have a good handle on what traits are important for robust production under organic conditions. Thus the opportunity to meld farmers' experience and knowledge with breeders' expertise is an effective way to breed for organic production systems. The purpose of this project was to investigate and explore the opportunities and challenges of organic plant breeding using participatory research methods. This research had three goals: 1) to develop an open pollinated broccoli with contemporary quality traits for organic production systems using participatory strategies; 2) to compare broccoli selections made by formally trained plant breeders and farmer breeders; and 3) to capture the stories and experiences of the formal breeders and farmer breeders involved with this broccoli material in order to contribute to the growing wealth of knowledge on collaborative and organic breeding work. The Oregon State University Vegetable Breeding Program made significant progress towards decreasing the variability of the broccoli project material through three successive years of modified half-sibling selections. Evaluations and selections were based more strongly on quality traits rather than soley on production traits such as yield. Although progress was incremental and statistically verified in only three out of the fifteen quality traits, we observed trends in the data indicating progress towards an increasingly uniform, stable, and reliable open pollinated broccoli with specific adaptation for organic production systems. There were very few differences between broccoli materials developed by formally trained plant breeders and farmer breeders. This was especially true for the three cultivars developed in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) (one in Washington and two in Oregon). The 'East Coast' population, which had been collaboratively selected by formal and farmer breeders in New York, expressed significantly distinct differences from the PNW materials. When the farmer breeder and formal breeder materials were pooled together and compared to pooled check cultivars they expressed significant differences for nearly all traits across all years. This demonstrated that all of the collaboratively developed open pollinated materials are distinctly different from the F1 hybrids currently available. Our work has demonstrated a few of the myriad of positive outcomes achievable with the use of participatory plant breeding for organic production systems. The participatory nature of this project resulted in increased confidence and feelings of empowerment for all involved. Both farmers and breeders felt their involvement was socially beneficial and widened their networking and seed community circles. The farmer-bred cultivar 'Solstice' is now available as a result of Jonathan Spero's work, and a cultivar tentatively named 'Benton' is about to be released for sale through Oregon State University. Our results agree with previous study findings that formal and farmer breeder selections are often not distinctly different; thus providing evidence for continuing to support the involvement and education of farmers in plant breeding, especially in reference to organic production systems. This study demonstrates the potential of collaboratively developed and farmer-bred cultivars to become viable and vibrant open pollinated alternatives to the current open pollinated cultivars on the market today.
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