From the Editor: Innovating naturally

Jennifer Paige
March 13, 2019
By
Rebecca Ivanoff, who farms at Whole Circle Farm near Acton, Ont., spoke at the Guelph Organic Conference about her on-farm evaluations.
Rebecca Ivanoff, who farms at Whole Circle Farm near Acton, Ont., spoke at the Guelph Organic Conference about her on-farm evaluations. Jennifer Paige
Innovations on the farm can come in many forms. From developing a new piece of equipment or production method, to improving the methods you already have in place. Canadian farmers are always searching for ways to work better and smarter.

This past month I found myself walking the aisles of the Guelph Organics Conference, an annual event held on the University of Guelph campus that aims to promote organic production. As I perused the different vendors, it was clear the organic sector was no stranger to innovating either. From steam treatment for weed control to a newly developed fabric that allows for control and manipulation of soil moisture in organic greenhouse production, the Guelph Organics Conference had plenty to offer in the way of new and exciting.

In an afternoon workshop, I quickly discovered another form of innovation happening on farms across Canada – on-farm plant breeding and variety trials.

“We are trying to work with farmers who are growing diverse crops to grow regionally-adapted seed for farm-scale production,” says Aabir Dey of The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. “Farmers are excellent plant breeders. They can make the best observations on their farm and with a little bit of support they can develop varieties that are going to perform better or equal to any of the varieties that are on the market.”

This growing season, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, in partnership with the University of B.C., will be running a program called the Canadian Organic Variety Improvement program where new populations of breeding genetics of peppers, squash and carrots will be sent to farmers all over Canada to conduct on-farm evaluations and selections.

“This is the only program of its kind in Canada. We are trying to build a community or network of farmers who are constantly evaluating, adapting and developing these varieties on their farms,” Dey says.

Rebecca Ivanoff, who farms at Whole Circle Farm near Acton, Ont., is one of the growers participating in the on-farm evaluations. Speaking at the conference, Ivanoff provided an overview of her process of conducting variety trials, on-farm selections and plant breeding techniques.

“Fourteen different pepper seeds that were sent to me and we grew them out in replication across the field. Then we evaluate them for all of the things that growers would be looking at, how well they establish, shape, size, and resistance to pests, and then we dig them up and also evaluate for flavour and appearance,” Ivanoff says. “I am really excited to be a part of a group of people who are learning to save seeds. I think the capacity and skills of seed growers in Canada has been boosted greatly in the past few years and a lot of that has been because of conferences and workshops like these that we have been having.”

On-farm plant breeding is just another way Canadian growers are innovating and moving the industry forward. Keep your eyes on upcoming pages of F&V for more details on on-farm plant breeding projects in Canada.

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