ian cushon

Ian Cushon at Moose Creek Organic Farm, north of Oxbow, SK

An early adopter of organic systems, Ian has always sought the best varieties for his conditions, and welcomed the opportunity to develop germplasm specifically adapted to his land, methods, and needs.

On 4,400 acres at Moose Creek Organics, north of Oxbow, SK, Ian produces oats, flax, hemp, alfalfa, and wheat for the commodity market. He has been in the Participatory Plant Breeding program for over ten years and has developed four wheat populations currently being evaluated in comparative trials across the Prairies.

In his wheat selections, Ian prioritizes superior agronomic quality and yield. “The goal is to produce a variety that yields 10% better than the best commercial varieties. That 10% would easily make saving our own seed more lucrative for us.” And, it’s working. “We've seen yield increases with some of the varieties, significant yield increases, within even a few years. So I think the process works, but you know… plant breeding is a continual process. It doesn't stop, it should never stop happening.”

According to Ian, “there's tremendous opportunity in the food system to brand products that tell a story, and it's done all the time. And more and more there's lots of consumers who want something with a story and a connection to farming. Or they want something local, or they want something unique, or something that has a certain quality. Those are all opportunities for us, if we wanted to pursue that, to try and develop that.”

Ian acknowledges that for all the benefits of farmer-led plant breeding, there are significant challenges too. “It takes a lot of money, resources, and commitment from institutions beyond farmers. So it would be difficult for farmers to do this on their own without the University of Manitoba, institutions, and plant breeders supporting the process.”


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