Breeding Biofortified Pulse & Cereal Crops For US Organic Cropping Systems
Currently, there is a widespread acceptance within the agriculture community that organic agricultural systems, when properly managed, are environmentally friendly and more sustainable than high-yielding conventional farming systems. Organics has become more popular with both consumers and producers, as they are becoming more cognizant of the environmental and health benefits of organics.
As part of the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), this project aims to "solve current organic agriculture issues, priorities, or problems through the integration of research, education, and extension activities"(USDA-NIFA, 2019). To accomplish the task at hand, the project's research objectives and goals directly address crucial demands of both producers, processors, and consumers.
Major Research Areas
I. Breed high yielding and healthier varieties of field pea and sorghum for consumers
II. Advance genomic and phenotyping technologies to facilitate organic variety development
III. Understand how plant breeding can build more sustainable and healthier food systems
- Why Grow Organic?
1) U.S. organic agriculture sales increase every year, rising from $28.4 billion in 2012 to $35 billion in 2014, and accounting for greater than 5% of the total U.S. food sales by 2017. Consumers show a keen interest in organic products as of their perceived higher nutritional quality and safety status, so economic returns for this market are high.
2) Organic agriculture can promote greater overall environmental and soil health, as it puts greater focus on better crop rotation strategies, animal welfare, soil quality, and plant and animal diversity, while reducing the reliance on chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, nonrenewable resources, and unnecessary antibiotics. Scientific studies have confirmed that organic farms have less greenhouse emissions, soil erosion and nutrient leaching than conventional farming systems, while maintaining greater soil diversity and nutrition.
3) Economic analyses have concluded that organic agriculture can be 22% - 35% more profitable than conventional agriculture, with increased benefit/cost ratios. However, the increased labor needed for organic farm maintenance does present an extra expense for farmers, but also represents an opportunity for increased employment for rural and developing areas, benefiting communities and promoting social wellbeing overall.
Reganold, J. P., & Wachter, J. M. (2016, February Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century. Nature Plants. https://doi.org/10.1038/nplants.2015.221
- Why Grow Peas?
1) Hardy winter crop a) Field pea is a cool season legume that can be planted in late December to mid-January, with the crop then harvested — just in time for summer planting.
2) Markets for human consumption and livestock feed a) Field pea is enriched in protein, carbohydrate, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
3) Increase soil health and fertility a) As legumes, field peas supply nitrogen back to the soil, increase water retention, and release other nutrients in the soil.
4) Good in rotational cropping systems a) Field pea will aid in breaking up pest and disease cycles for other crops.
- Why Grow Sorghum?
1) High productivity in marginal environments a) Grain sorghum is more drought tolerant than corn and naturally suppresses weeds.
2) Food and feed grain demand a) South Carolina and other states in the southeastern U.S. are grain deficit, so adding more to the markets will aid in meeting the demand.
3) Perfect for gluten-free markets a) Sorghum is a non-GMO and gluten-free ancient grain that can be utilized in increasingly popular natural, gluten-free, and allergen-free markets.
4) Can increase soil quality a) Grain sorghum may be grown with reduced (i.e., strip-till) or no till management to minimize erosion and nutrient leaching, which are prevalent problems in sandy loam soils.