US (CA): New organic plant breeding effort to produce novel varieties and train new breeders

A new effort to provide California growers with seeds for tomato, bean, pepper and other crop varieties that are specially bred for organic farming has been launched at UC Davis.

The organic plant-breeding project was developed in direct response to California organic growers, who have reported that the scarcity of seeds for cultivars that meet the needs of organic farming can seriously impact a farm’s bottom line.

“Seeds bred to account for the difference between growing organically and conventionally could improve farm yields and marketing potential for produce, yet organic seeds available to farmers are rarely developed with these organic management considerations in mind,” said Charlie Brummer, director of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Center and coordinator of the new organic breeding project.

Studies show that plant varieties developed under organic conditions can out-perform those developed under conventional conditions, Brummer said.

The new breeding effort, funded at just under $1 million by the Organic Research and Extension Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will develop new cultivars on certified organic land at the Student Farm, a program of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis. Breeding programs will be led by graduate students as part of their hands-on training to be plant breeders.

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