Both modern and older methods of breeding and selecting plant varieties have ADVANTAGES. The differences derive largely from how they were bred and provide OPPORTUNITIES to achieve the best of both worlds. PARTICIPATORY PLANT BREEDING and PARTICIPATORY VARIETAL SELECTION are modern methods that include the users of the new varieties such as gardeners and combine their knowledge with that of professional plant breeders to develop new varieties fine-tuned to their needs.
Participatory plant breeding and selection, part of the broad umbrella of CITIZEN SCIENCE, are widely used in developing countries and organic farming but have only recently (and rarely) been used for garden varieties. This website explains:
- the common advantages and disadvantages of each type of seed (heirloom, modern, F1 hybrids etc);
- how and why modern plant breeding is currently mostly not creating varieties suited to gardeners;
- the opportunities available for gardeners to benefit from modern plant breeding;
- and why, up till quite recently, few of the potential benefits of new varieties for gardeners have actually been incorporated in them.
Modern varieties in particular have the advantage of strong disease resistance derived from recently-discovered landraces and wild species. Heirloom varieties, bred before these were discovered, cannot have these traits. On the other hand, heirloom varieties have the advantage of having been selected by (now largely extinct) market gardeners who had similar needs to modern gardeners.
For-profit, commercial companies breed most modern varieties. These are often conglomerates created from ‘swallowing up’ small companies. These conglomerates are 1) especially driven by commercial pressures and 2) have become distant from their customers, and these characteristics have hindered the production of modern varieties suitable for gardeners.
Commercial companies mostly breed F1 hybrids – but many of their benefits seem solely for the profitability of the companies. Their other benefits seem mainly to suit growers, their main customers and for whom modern varieties seem to be designed, particularly enabling mechanisation and other factors in ease of sales to distant supermarkets and factories. A consequence of these is that many gardeners still grow heirloom varieties.
And the main purpose of this website is to explain how:
- bringing gardeners and plant breeders together in participatory plant breeding and varietal selection can enable better garden varieties to be bred;
- and how a few plant breeders are achieving these approaches by using modern methods of communication and how this is proving very satisfying and fun for gardeners!
This whole topic is extremely important but often overlooked. The varieties of plant that gardeners grow is critical: select the wrong ones and we’re disappointed however much we fertilise or otherwise pamper them. Yet a good variety often costs no more than a poor one. Gardeners need good varieties for them to be bred, to be identifiable, available and for knowledge of them so they can select the correct ones.