Terry Toews and Stewart Wells at Penny Lane Organic Farms outside of Swift Current, Saskatchewan

Penny Lane Organic Farms is a third generation farm, sitting on 3,500 acres outside of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. There, farmer Stewart Wells and his partner, Terry Toews, currently produce certified organic grain for the commodity market, as well as alfalfa and pulse crops. For the last ten years, he has been selecting from three separate Hard Red Spring Wheat lines for which he is now increasing volume for quality testing.

Stewart’s immediate interest is in breeding for an agronomically superior wheat that performs well under his organic management and could be used by other organic farmers. “For us, the important things for our PPB wheat are the same things that are important with the non-PPB varieties. What will it produce and what diseases will it be susceptible to, and what will the end quality be which makes it saleable?” His longer term goal is to use on-farm plant breeding to help create a farming system that prioritizes democratic control of seed rather than corporate monopoly over germplasm. According to Stewart: “I think the most important thing that the PPB system could do, in terms of becoming an insurance system against monopolization by the private trade, is actually getting one or two varieties registered. That would be a tremendous feather in the cap of the whole system and it would provide an opportunity for farmers to freely exchange seed and sell seed to each other.”

In Canada, the variety registration process is costly and complex, but this process has long safeguarded the quality and purity of Canadian-grown grain. Unfortunately, this system is relatively inaccessible for both farmers who are engaged in plant breeding and for evaluating varieties that have been developed in organic farming conditions.

After many years of work, farmer-plant breeders like Stewart are beginning to engage in this process, alongside The Bauta Family Initiative’s ongoing advocacy for a seed system that supports farmer-led, organic plant breeding.


Thanks to Murray Jowett who conducted the farmer interviews for this story.