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Stephen Fox, a Canadian wheat breeder
Stephen Fox is a busy man. From his Canada Western Red Spring Wheat breeding program, based at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Cereal Research Centre located in Winnipeg, he oversees in the neighborhood of 12,000 yield plots and 35,000 nursery rows every year across Western Canada. Here, he collects data that is used to identify new wheat varieties that aspire to provide better yields, be more resistant to diseases and insect pests and improve Canadian agricultural productivity.
In 2004, after attending an organic field day seminar organized by Dr. Martin Entz, Fox decided to try his hand at breeding cultivars for organic production. Seven years later, Fox now has a well established organic-based wheat breeding program and is beginning to identify varieties that are adapted to organic growing conditions. This program forms the basis of the organic cereal crop breeding research activity of the Organic Science Cluster.
Why breed specifically for organic production? The agroecology of organics is different; there is restricted nutrient availability, the microflora of the soil is different and weed pressure is a big constraint. The breeding program aims to generate varieties that yield highly under this organic agroecosystem. Then, it will be possible to study why these varieties are adapted to organic, and what features these plants have that the conventionally bred cultivars do not.