Breeding Crops in and fro Organic Soils
I went to the workshop on breeding crops for organic soils. I learned more than I could have imagined on the effect of root structure on productivity. It seems we may have inadvertently sacrificed root structure in favour of higher yields in modern plant breeding, as larger, more complex root architecture means a drop in productivity above ground. And yet, the root systems are what gives the plant resilience in less than optimal conditions like drought or flooding. In conventional agriculture where soil is just what holds up the plants, this effect is just beginning to be understood. Yet another reason that climate challenges favour organic over industrial.
Takeaway idea – it was found when growing wheat that planting multiple varieties mixed together actually produced greater yields than the same varieties planted as individuals. One reason was that the different varieties used slightly different soil profiles as well as different adaptations to soil microbes. Fascinating stuff! Afterwards I talked to Julie Dawson, who presented this paper, and she assured me that the only factor to consider was ripening times so that it could be harvested optimally. Differences in height or lodging resistance were unimportant. And the results were also seen in other small grains like barley and oats. It sounds like we should all rush out and start our own landraces!