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What is Evolutionary Plant Breeding for Climate-Adaptation?

Farmers around the world are participating in a process called Evolutionary Plant Breeding (EPB) to develop new varieties of food crops that will thrive and adapt to a changing climate.  Traditional seed breeding is concerned with varietal integrity and seeks to isolate varieties/prevent cross-pollination in order to retain desirable characteristics or intentionally cross pollinate in a controlled way known as hybridization.  In contrast, EPB purposefully mixes a wide diversity of varieties together with curiosity to uncover hidden resiliency genetics as varieties emerge, cross, and thrive under new, rapidly changing conditions.  With EPB, farmers gather and mix seeds from hundreds to thousands of different varieties of a food crop (usually a cereal grain) that are culturally, ecologically and nutritionally important to their place.  Farmers then plant the seed mixtures in their fields each year, creating a living, evolving gene bank that will adapt over time to the local climate and agricultural practices through the process of natural selection.  In addition to harvesting the mixture for sustenance and market, farmers can select out of the mixture individual varieties to grow out as new, locally-unique varieties that have improved genetics and adaptations from the mixture.

 

 

This year, OAEC’s Kendall Dunnigan and Cooper Freeman, obtained over 550 varieties of winter bread wheat from the USDA seed bank, mixed them together, and planted the mixture in 4 different plots around Sonoma County – here in our home North Garden in Occidental, at the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria tribal garden in Rohnert Park, the Northwest Prep Charter School garden in north Santa Rosa, and the Bayer Farm Neighborhood Park and Garden in the Roseland district of Santa Rosa.  We will be harvesting the wheat this summer and will report back soon with our findings!

Potential Benefits of Evolutionary Plant Breeding

Increases Biodiversity

produces new varieties which are unique to each location

Enhances Agricultural Resilience to Climate Change

an inexpensive, dynamic, and fast way of adapting crops to a changing climate through natural selection

Ideal for Organic Agriculture

fits crops to the Environment rather than modifying the environment and therefore is ideal for organic conditions

Decreases Crop Vulnerability

diverse seed mixtures better resist weeds, diseases, pests and natural disasters

Rejects Ownership of Life

evolutionary populations are not patentable

Maintains Seed Vitality

gets seeds out of seed banks and into farmers’ fields

Returns Seed Breeding and Selection to Farmers and Gardeners

puts control back into the hands of farmers and gardeners, and away from multi-national corporations

Decentralizes the Seed Supply

supports local seed systems and encourages farmer participation

 

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