Organic farmers rely on practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to deal with the serious challenges of insects, disease, and weeds. While progress has been made in developing best management practices, little has been done to develop varieties suited to organic systems–a strategy that could be equally important over time. Having plant varieties that are suited for organic systems may be key to producing higher yields and better quality crops, playing an important role in increasing organic farmers’ success. Such varieties could possess abilities to better access organic fertility sources, compete with weeds, and resist disease and insects. However, currently, almost no plant varieties have been bred specifically for organic systems.
The four organic plant breeding manuals that the Organic Seed Association produced for this project were written for farmers to enable them to do their own breeding, and develop varieties that can be adapted to the climactic conditions and growing practices of their farm or region. The manuals provide step-by-step training on the methods of breeding new crop varieties on the farm that can immediately be used by farmers to learn and improve their skills in plant breeding without adding extensive breeding infrastructure.
Introduction to On-farm Organic Plant Breeding gives an overview of basic genetics, farm-based experimental design, and breeding techniques appropriate for organic farms. The introductory guide provides the scientific foundation for the crop-specific instruction provided in the other three guides: How to Breed Carrots for Organic Agriculture, How to Breed Sweet Corn for Organic Agriculture, and How to Breed Tomatoes for Organic Agriculture. Each crop-specific manual provides step-by-step instruction, from identifying good breeding material to maintaining a new variety for quality and uniformity.
Many university and industry professionals are also interested in expanding their work with farmers. Since the manuals are geared toward farm-based projects, the methods also support formal breeders who already engage, or wish to engage, farmers in their plant breeding programs.
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