Farm-based organic wheat variety trials network (LiveWheat)
Aims and objectives
Varietal choice is particularly critical for growers of organic crops because of the restricted range of available/permitted inputs. Although the AHDB Recommended Lists (RL) uses plot-scale experiments to determine the genetic potential of cereal varieties, these trials have a high use of fertilisers, herbicides and, where applied, fungicides. Consequently, the results have relatively limited value in organic/low-input systems. Additionally, the trials do not consider other key aspects, such as weed competition and performance in lower fertility rotations.
The Organic Research Centre (ORC) runs a participatory ‘collective experiment’ that uses field-scale variety trials on commercial organic farms. This has generated results that could potentially complement the RL.
This work will develop the network of farms and researchers further. It will involve 10–15 organic farms* and generate datasets that describe the field performance of winter wheat varieties. The work will include a special emphasis on weed abundance and community composition, diseases symptoms, and key yield and quality components.
In cooperation with AHDB (in-kind support), datasets will be analysed and compared with external data sources, including climatic and environmental data. Use of standardised protocols for the on-farm trials, including the use of carefully selected control varieties, will allow for direct comparison with RL trial data.
*The on-farm trials could also include conventional farms.
The results will be of value in conventional, low-input and organic farming systems. The work will also inform plant-breeding strategies. The project will also improve and standardise experimental designs and protocols for on-farm participatory trials.
LiveWheat at Green Acres Farm in Shropshire (news item and video published in June 2020)