By Laura Rance
Prairie organic growers can for the first time this spring grow a registered variety of oats that has been developed under organic management.
Limited quantities of AAC Oravena certified seed are now available through Fedoruk Seeds at Kamsack, Sask., after a lengthy breeding and development process by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada oat breeder Jennifer Mitchell Fetch.
She selected cultivars based on how they performed in an organic system but the variety has gone through the standard variety registration process, which includes performance testing at multiple sites on the Prairies for agronomic traits, disease resistance and processing characteristics.
Oravena was approved and registered as a variety in 2014. It is licensed to Grain Millers Canada Corp., which is currently engaged in a $100-million expansion of its oat processing facilities in Yorkton.
While the company plans to purchase Oravena oats for processing, farmers growing the variety are free to sell their production to other buyers as well, an official said.
Mitchell Fetch detailed the qualities of Oravena and a second organic oat variety she’s developed, AAC Kongsore, during an industry research update via conference call March 28.
AAC Kongsore was recommended for registration in March. It has also been licensed to Grain Millers, and is in fact named after the late Christian Kongsore, who co-founded the company in 1986.
Both varieties are registered as suitable for milling and feature comparable yields to the check variety AC Morgan. They feature good lodging resistance, they have a high test weight, and high kernel weight. They are also high in total dietary fibre and betaglucan.
Mitchell Fetch said both varieties feature improved disease resistance. AAC Oravena improved smut and crown rust resistance, with intermediate resistance to stem rust. AAC Kongsore is resistant to smut but its resistance to crown rust is at risk of breaking down, which may reduce its appeal to growers in Manitoba.
Mitchell Fetch said AAC Oravena’s large seed size should give the plants a head start on weeds in the spring. “It will emerge quicker and compete with weeds better,” she said.
While plant breeders have long selected cultivars for performance in different regions and soil types, selecting based on the production system growers are using, such as organic, is relatively new.
While there is no data available yet for oats, research conducted AAC Tradition, the first wheat variety registered for organic production in Canada, shows it yields as much as 10 per cent over conventional varieties under organic management.
It also boasts higher protein and plumper kernels, University of Manitoba cropping systems researcher Martin Entz said in an interview.
Despite the promising results, there is currently no organic wheat breeding program underway at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The program was dropped after the lead researcher Stephen Fox left the department.
Regaining funding under the next round of Growing Forward research grants will require not only finding a breeder willing to take up the challenge, but support from the wheat industry as well, Andy Hammermeister, director of the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) and assistant professor at Dalhousie University told industry participants.