Northern-adapted oats leading the way

Frank Bueckert sharing his PPB oat experience at the Mackenzie Applied Research Association organic plots.



According to Frank Bueckert, “the future of farming is farmers adapting their crops to their own microclimate, and their own circumstances and situations.” He has put this into practice by engaging with the participatory oat breeding program, including oat lines that have turned out to be top performers in adaptation trials across western Canada!

Frank Bueckert has been grain farming at Woodland Organics in Fort Vermilion, northern Alberta for almost 40 years.  For four of these seasons, Frank engaged in a participatory oat breeding program in partnership with the University of Manitoba and The Bauta Initiative. He looked after plots and did selections at the nearby Mackenzie Applied Research Association (MARA) site, which is an organization focused on applied agricultural and environmental research.

Frank explains how variety trials and plant breeding fit into the big picture of farming for him. “Every area of Canada is unique. And what grows good up here may not grow the same anywhere else and the other way around. And what I found out, especially in the organic industry, is that a lot of regulations are designed around southern climates. And so when we have to try to farm according to that up here it just doesn't work. So I think farmers adapting their crops to their own microclimate, and their own circumstances and situations, would be probably the best way to go for the future of farming.”

Frank shared about his experience: “It's a lot of work. The first year I didn't know what I was actually even looking for. So what I did was I just picked out all the heads that to me were what I wanted to see in my own field. And apparently that was the right choice because one of those plots was the top one in all of the plot trials!” Frank’s selection criteria included reasonable height, upright growth, a well filled out head, plants with lots of seed on them and that matured all around the same time.

Some of the better performing PPB lines were entered into AAFC organic pre-registration trials, grown at nine organically managed sites across western Canada. One of these lines was advanced to the Western Cooperative Oat Registration Trial and was shown to have very similar performance to the popular oat variety AC Morgan.

Plant breeding takes a long time, but the more farmers doing this work, the merrier according to Frank: “One thing I've learned from this whole thing was coming up with new varieties is not easy. It takes a lot of time. They told me it was 10 to 15 years for every new variety. So the more that farmers take this on themselves, the more varieties…there'll be to be looked at every year.”


Thanks to Meredith Davis, Good Roots Consulting, who conducted the farmer interviews for this story; and Kirby Nilson, AAFC, who provided background information.