Filling the ag research gap in Canada

January 26, 2020

The world lost 75 per cent of its crop diversity in the last century. Now the UN estimates we’re on track to lose a third of what is left by 2050.

Ian and Linda Grossart (left and right), farmers and crop breeders, with Michelle Carkner, University of Manitoba researcher. (Photo: Marianne Helm)

But there are farmers in Canada working to reverse the trend. SeedChange helps these farmers take leadership roles in breeding new, sustainable crop varieties.

In their own fields, farmers are breeding wheat, oat, potato and corn varieties adapted to their regional climates, that do not require harmful synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and that suit their farms’ needs.

“What’s neat is that we are developing varieties for each micro-climate – varieties that are developed in a particular region and work there,” says Ian Grossart, who farms outside of Brandon, Man. “So these varieties may not work in the Regina region, but they work well here.”

This participatory plant breeding (PPB) program, a partnership with the University of Manitoba, is the only one of its kind in Canada.

(Photo: Marianne Helm)

“Farmers are the original plant breeders, and in the beginning the aim [of the program] was to involve farmers in the breeding in a more intimate way and get some genetic diversity within the cereals landscape,” Michelle Carkner, a research associate at the U of M and PPB program coordinator for Manitoba, told Grainews. This diversity is especially necessary to adapt to, and mitigate, the effects of climate change.

Plus, Michelle adds, the program is filling a critical gap in research and breeding in Canada: crops for organic and low input/low emissions farming.

“In conventional breeding programs the lines or populations are tested under conventional conditions, weed-free, high nutrient input, and across many locations under the same conditions, but those are not the conditions that organic farmers are working within.”

For Ian, who uses organic practices, this breeding program means seeds that grow more good food on his farm – something we can all benefit from!

Learn more about the project, a part of The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, at