Catherine, on-farm with her yellow bean crop, at Northern Seeds. Photo credit: Anne-Marie Laplante

Catherine manages one acre of land divided in three isolated fields where she grows 110 varieties to produce seeds that she can sell through her company, Northern Seeds. Every season, she evaluates the plants from her stock seeds to keep the best mother plants. In the long run, she hopes that her crops will be better adapted to the soil and weather conditions of the Outaouais region.

For the last three years, Catherine has worked on a more advanced breeding project to develop a sturdy yellow bean bush variety that can be harvested more easily.

“The first thing I wanted to do was find out if there were any dwarf beans on the market without fragile necks. Talking with James Myers, who is a researcher at Oregon State University, I learned that this is a genetic variation that happened at the beginning of the 20th Century. It seems that many varieties sold today have the Brittle Wax variety as a parent.”

After talking with James, Catherine decided to do a trial. She found a variety where the pods didn’t break. The taste is excellent, but the plants are a bit overgrown, and yields are rather low. Two other varieties stood out for their taste, their yield, and their small and straight bush-like quality.  

Crossing beans requires practice. “It was the first time I was trying to do this kind of cross. I initially thought I’d had some success, but then a lot of flowers and fruits aborted. I think there wasn’t enough humidity, but I’m not sure.”

Catherine also sent some seeds to the SeedChange demonstration garden in Senneville, in the West Island of Montreal. The team from the Legume Genetics and Breeding Laboratory was able to demonstrate how to make crosses. “The F1 population (that resulted from the cross) wasn’t conclusive, but it did allow me to increase my population. The F2 population showed more variation. There were some productive plants where the beans didn’t break, so I could confirm that the crosses had been successful.”

At the same time, SeedChange is coordinating trials with the Coopérative pour l’agriculture de proximité (CAPÉ). “It’s interesting to chat with other producers who are also involved in the trials coordinated by SeedChange and CAPÉ. I can be sure of my breeding goals and of my choice of productive parents (the other variety used for the cross). In the long term, it will also allow me to compare my new variety with the ones that these producers like, using for example baseline data to evaluate its yield.”

“The work being done by SeedChange’s regional office is rewarding and encouraging. The regional coordinator provides links to all kinds of resources. He puts me in contact with others who are working on similar projects, or who have relevant experiences. He also lets me share my experiences with people that could benefit from it, which is very gratifying when trying to create a new variety, since it can take several years before getting a stable and useful result.”

“It is also immensely rewarding to be part of a larger network of producers and organisers working together to create a resilient, diverse and community and producer serving agri-food system.”