Action 860. 2004-2008. Sustainable low-input cereal production: required varietal characteristics and crop diversity (SUSVAR).
Sustainable low-input cereal production:
required varietal characteristics and crop diversity(SUSVAR)
Working Group 1– Genetics and Breeding
Approaches to plant breeding increasing genetic diversity of the crop will be studied, focusing on plant material adapted specifically to low-input/organic agriculture. National initiatives to search for genetic resources for low-input varieties using genotype-environment interactions will be coordinated. Material and results from population breeding in wheat, previously limited to a few national programmes, will be integrated into European approaches. Principles and materials from other WGs will be integrated at appropriate levels of priority into the different approaches for the use of genetic diversity.
Plant – Soil
Plant – Plant
Variety testing &
Working Group 2– Biostatistics
The group will act to ensure that appropriate designs and statistical methods are used within the network. Specifically, design of experiments for variety trials especially those that involve more factors and/or many varieties will be discussed and recommendations will be given, e.g., 1) statistical analyses of appropriate measurements for disease resistance and weed competitiveness both for single trials and a series of trials, 2) methods for describing genotype-environment interactions and prediction of variety performance under specific environmental conditions and 3) statistical analyses of variety mixture efficacies.
Figure 1: Organisation of intra-disciplinary activities.
Working Group 3– Plant-soil interaction
The group will put its emphasis on root and crop traits that improve nutrient acquisition and use efficiencies in low input/organic farming. Differences between cereal varieties under various growth conditions will be studied. Particular emphasis will be put on the interaction of microbes and cereal varieties, e.g., on the ability of microbial inoculants to reduce the impact of leaf and ear diseases, to control soil and seed-borne pathogens and to stimulate plant growth. In addition, the effect of different cultivars on indigenous plant-beneficial microorganisms will also be considered.
Working Group 4– Plant-plant interactions
Based on knowledge from weed science, initially focus will be on a very basic question of what strategy should be followed to obtain the best combination of individual varieties in variety mixtures. Current variety trials are insufficient to reveal this so the development of sound and yet practical screening procedures for identification of the suitability of individual varieties to be included in variety mixtures will be addressed. Also the potential contribution of variety mixtures in suppressing weeds will be discussed, e.g. will varieties with a strong weed suppressive ability, due to high competitive ability or allelopathic potential, be advantageous.
Figure 2: Field visit during a workshop in France
Working Group 5– Plant-disease complexes
Desirable resistance characteristics of a variety/mixture/population is discussed, e.g. overall non-specific resistance or specific resistance against the relevant pathogens. The complexity of the organic growing system implies that different varieties may be optimal here, compared to those in a high-input system under the same set of environmental conditions. The diseases investigated are those of particular relevance in low-input/organic farming included in projects with national funding. Breeders and researchers will join forces in ring tests for specific diseases and plant material of importance in low-input/organic crops in Europe.
To ensure stable and acceptable yields of good quality for low-input, especially organic, cereal production in Europe.
To develop ways to increase and make use of crop diversity.
To establish methods for selecting varieties, lines and populations taking into account genotype-environment interactions.
To initialise and coordinate running national field trials and research projects and disseminate results in collaboration.
To establish interdisciplinary collaboration (across WGs).
Working Group 6– Variety testing and certification
Relevant information from the other working groups will be extracted to build protocols for (official) organic variety testing. Recommendations for desirable plant characteristics and best methodologies to assess these characteristics will be given. National comparative studies between organic and conventional variety testing will be combined. This to learn whether organic variety testing leads to other variety choices, which characteristics really need to be tested under organic conditions to produce good phenotypic variation for evaluation, and for which characteristics one can extrapolate the results of tests under conventional conditions. This would contribute to harmonising the procedures in different EU countries.
Handbook on cereal variety testing for organic and low-input agriculture: Trial setup and statistical analysis, weed competitiveness, disease assessment, evaluation of lodging, nutrient use efficiency and processing quality.
Special issue of Euphytica on ‘Plant breeding for organic and low-input Agriculture’ and the development of a section of Eucarpia for Organic and low-input Agriculture.
A number of Workshop proceedings covering research within among others use of molecular markers, genetic crop diversity, varietal characteristics below ground, microbial interactions – all related to organic or low-input cereal production.
European combined trials for developing new wheat breeding methodology based on Composite Cross Populations (natural selection in population of multiple crosses).
Workshop developing visions for future sustainable cereal production.