Increasing evidence is emerging that demonstrates that crop varieties bred in conventional production environments may not be optimally adapted for organic management. In order to create farming systems with optimal ecofunctionality and performance, organic farmers need access to varieties that are suited for their specific product environments. As organic production adopts site-specific management approaches, climate, soil type, and nutrient management will differ across regions and across organic farms within a region – making local variety trialling and on-farm participatory breeding and trialling efforts extremely important.
The Silva Lab is involved in several projects that address this need for regionally-adapted cultivar development and trialling for Wisconsin’s organic farmers.
NOVIC involves a national, collaborative network of organic vegetable breeders and trialling facilitators, working with farmers to identify and develop improved vegetable varieties that are adapted to organic systems. These varieties will combine disease resistance, nutritional and flavor quality, and contemporary productivity traits crucial to modern markets. The project focuses on three hubs in the Northern U.S. (Wisconsin, Oregon/Washington, and New York) and multiple crops (tomatoes, red peppers, sweet corn, cabbage and winter squash). Variety trials and evaluation of breeding material at various stages of development are both included in the efforts, providing growers information with respect to commercially available varieties and allowing for further improvement toward cultivar development.
Organic carrots contribute to 14% of all carrots produced in the US. However, carrots are an extremely difficult crop to grow organically, as they are often slow to emerge and not competitive against weeds. Under the leadership of Dr. Phil Simon, USDA carrot breeder, this projects aims to achieve several goals: 1) develop and release carrot germplasm with improved disease and nematode resistance, marketable yield, nutritional value, flavor and storage quality for organic production, 2) improve our understanding of cultivar responses to organic production systems and identify desirable traits for organic producers, 3) inform growers about production and pest management schemes including cultivar selection to maximize carrot production, and 4) inform consumers about the positive environmental impact of organic production systems and carrot nutritional quality and flavor.