The BC Seed Trials project was a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, UBC Farm, and FarmFolk CityFolk from 2016 to 2018. Through conducting vegetable variety trials on farms throughout the province we have, with input from local farmers, identified varieties which perform best in each region as well as those varieties which can be scaled up for bulk seed production.
Beets are a popular crop at BC farmers markets and golden beets are becoming more and more common. The southern coast of BC has a great climate for beet seed production.
Spinach is another popular spring and fall crop at BC farmers’ markets. It is also a great seed crop for the region with much commercial spinach seed production happening just south of us in Washington State.
Kale is a staple crop for most small farms in BC and is popular for its year-round production. The Lacinato style kales are very popular and we will be assessing them for many traits including overwintering.
In 2016, the BC Eco Seed Co-op in collaboration with the UBC Farm Seed Hub and FarmFolk/CityFolk initiated a pilot project at UBC Farm to develop a model of practical on-farm trials to test seed quality. The intention was to explore various ways to conduct variety trials on a working farm without overwhelming farmers with data collection. These variety trials are meant to support the quality assurance program needed to offer quality seeds at a small/medium seed production scale.
More results coming soon
The goal of the BC Seed Trials was to contribute to resilient agri-food systems in British Columbia through participatory research which engages farmers in producing knowledge relevant to seed systems development.
Through variety trials on working farms throughout BC as well as at the UBC Farm agricultural research facility, the BC Seed Trials helped farmers identify promising varieties for seed production, helping improve the availability of high-quality, well-adapted, regionally-produced vegetable seed for BC agriculture.
Types of Variety Trials
The objective of the participatory variety trials was to identify potential new varieties for seed production in BC by evaluating market characteristics, agronomic performance, seed yield, and adaptation to BC production regions and systems. Two types of field research were included in this project: 1) quality testing of BC-grown seeds through lab evaluations and seed grow-outs at the UBC Farm research facility, and 2) in three to five key crops, “mother-baby” trials on a network of farms to evaluate new and existing varieties for regional adaptation and seed crop potential. Varieties for the quality testing program were selected by BC seed growers, who sent in samples of their seed to the project team for evaluation. Varieties for the mother-baby trials were selected in the first season by the research team with extensive consultation from seed growers, and will be revised through collaborative planning with farmer participants in subsequent years.
The Mother-Baby Trial Design
On-farm variety trials can help test varieties under ‘real world’ conditions and across a wide range of environments. However, farmers often lack the time or space to grow large trials. Mother-baby trials pair smaller trials on working farms (“baby” sites) with a larger trial at one “mother” site. While just a single plot of each variety was planted at each participating farm, the trials at the UBC Farm and Totem Field (mother sites) included three plots of each variety laid out in a randomized design. This provided robust information while minimizing the time and field space required from farmers.
- Engage farmers in participatory research and education that supports their ability to produce and market seed in BC, builds community among farmers and researchers, and contributes to the development of resilient seed systems.
- Contribute new knowledge, in BC and in wider academic and farming circles, about variety performance and adaptation, improved methods for collaborative variety trials, and the development of community seed systems.
- Further develop the UBC Farm as a leading research facility for sustainable agriculture by using the UBC Farm and Totem Field as primary research sites and by using this project as model for further extension and outreach between the UBC Farm and BC farming communities
- Build collaborative relationships between institutions including the UBC Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS), FarmFolk CityFolk (FFCF), the Bauta Initiative, and other universities and NGOs, in order to improve our collective capacity for future research and community engagement.
Administration and Funding
The BC Seed Trials project was collaboratively administered by the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, FarmFolk CityFolk, and the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, with additional research support from the University of Fraser Valley. Primary project funding was provided by the Bauta Initiative, UBC, the Investment Agriculture Foundation and Whole Foods.
Program Management Team
Alexandra Lyon is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems and the UBC Farm. She recently earned her PhD in Environment and Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she researched the seed needs of the organic vegetable sector and coordinated variety trials on organic farms as part of the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). She is excited to apply this experience in BC and looks forward to learning from local seed and vegetable growers about their challenges, priorities, and farming practices.
Chris Thoreau has been engaged in small-scale organic food production since 2001 as a farmer, educator, program manager, and advocate. Chris has been based in Vancouver, BC since 2008 where he attended the University of British Columbia’s Agroecology program. He received his B. Sc. (Hons) in 2011, focusing his studies on urban farming, soil management, and small-scale plant breeding. He currently manages the Vancouver Food Pedalers Cooperative.
Melanie Sylvestre has 12 years’ experience in small-scale organic production and holds a B.Sc. in Soil and Plant Science from UBC. She integrated seed production to her farming practice in 2007 and has since been increasing the amount of space and time seed takes in her life. In 2012, she initiated the Seed Hub at UBC Farm, a project focus on the convergence of seed production, education, research, and community building.
Shauna MacKinnon has been working in the food sustainability sector for over fifteen years leading projects on community engagement, market research, communications, and private sector partnerships. Recent work includes the management and implementation of the BC Organic Brand Strategy , leading the Canada Organic Trade Association’s west coast presence and authoring a suite of Canadian organic market research reports . Shauna has a M.A. in Geography from the University of Guelph where she received the first Organic Crop Improvement Association scholarship to support social science research in the organic sector.
The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security is a national program working with farmers and partners to build a diverse and resilient Canadian seed system through:
- Increasing the quality, quantity, and diversity of ecologically-grown Canadian seed
- Promoting public access to seed
- Facilitating information-sharing and collaboration among individuals and organizations committed to advancing an ecological and diverse seed system in Canada
- Respecting, advancing, and promoting the knowledge of farmers in seed and food production
The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS), located at UBC Farm, is a unique research centre that aims to understand and fundamentally transform local and global food systems towards a more sustainable, food secure future. The centre is a living laboratory, committed to finding solutions to both the local and global challenges facing food systems sustainability and translating solutions to improve personal, community, and environmental health.
University of Fraser Valley Agriculture Centre of Excellence is a joint venture including the University of British Columbia (UBC), Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), Thompson Rivers University (TRU), Okanagan College (OC), British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Vancouver Island University (VIU), and the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). Building on the strengths and expertise of each college, institute, and university, we will create a cohesive and efficient Agriculture Network of assisting and embracing the present and future challenges of agriculture and related industries within BC.
BC Eco Seed Co-op is a producers’ co-operative committed to vegetable, herb, grain, flower, and cover crop seed that is ecologically grown, open-pollinated, regionally adapted, held in the public domain, and GE-free. Our mission is to increase the quantity and improve the quality of ecological and organic seed grown in BC.