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Wheat adapted for organic production

Climate disruptions and abnormal growing seasons are increasingly affecting food production. Marketing grains that are better adapted to the changing climate is becoming a matter of urgency, with the development of new varieties taking up to a decade.

Sustainable farming practices, including organic farming, help not only to mitigate climate change, but also to adapt to its consequences. Varietal trials have been carried out in recent years in an effort to meet the challenges of organic farming. For example, Julie Anne Wilkinson, a project manager at the Centre d’expertise et de transfert en agriculture biologique et de proximité (CETAB+) at the Cégep de Victoriaville, led a three-year research project to evaluate spring wheat lines under organic conditions before they were put on the market.

In Canada, the process for developing grain varieties focuses mainly on the use of synthetic inputs, and the criteria sought do not always correspond to the needs of organic farming. Organic growers then use these varieties in their fields, whereas they would actually benefit from varieties with other characteristics such as competitiveness against weeds.

Under the mentorship of André Comeau, a plant geneticist and retired research scientist from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Julie Anne Wilkinson and her team carried out trials on 30 lines of wheat in small field plots in the summers of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and compared them with two control varieties. Despite abnormally hot and dry seasons that were not conducive to disease development, they identified varieties that could be interesting for use in organic farming, particularly because of their ability to outcompete weeds.

Each year, the results were communicated to seed companies, who determined the market potential of the wheat varieties. These trials have enabled the CETAB+ research team to develop their expertise in wheat genetics, but further research will be needed to bring other grain varieties to our plates.