Before the official beginning of spring and 2018 field preparations in the Pacific Northwest, OSA’s Laurie McKenzie and Micaela Colley joined research partners from the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture project (CIOA) to harvest carrots from winter breeding plots.
OSA’s team joined Dr. Phil Simon and his research crew from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to evaluate and select carrot roots from over 1,000 plots of orange and novel color germplasm in El Centro, California (just north of the Mexico border). The research team takes advantage of the warm off-season each year to grow carrot roots and bring the best selections back north for growing out to seed. This allows the team to complete the breeding cycle in one year rather than two.
The CIOA team identified promising carrot roots for breeding new open-pollinated carrots with strong tops, terrific flavor, disease and nematode resistance, superior nutritional qualities, and aesthetic appeal. Simon’s program is working to provide organic growers with carrots that combine robust field qualities with flavor and color that pique eaters’ excitement.
This year the CIOA team will serve farmers across the US by conducting field trials in six states representing diverse environments. Now in the project’s sixth year, the trials continue to expand based on interests and seed availability, including a new trial location in Hawaii. The team plans to conduct and compare trial results between Hawaii and Virginia sites to assess how carrots from the tropics crossed with carrots with improved flavor, disease resistance, and nutrition might perform for organic farmers.
A rainbow of carrot colors bring both beauty and diverse nutrition, and several of the CIOA populations are advancing with plans to release new colored carrots in partnership with organic seed companies. Purple carrots with yellow cores are one of McKenzie and Simon’s favorites. These carrots take advantage of the striking color contrasts, and delight chefs and eaters alike, while providing farmers with important production characteristics, such as resistance to important diseases.
The 2018 El Centro harvest also included a public field day that showcased novel color and superior orange carrots for seed companies and farmers to help evaluate. Shortly after the harvest, McKenzie and Colley shared some of these carrots — and their carrot breeding knowledge — with growers in Hawaii at the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative’s (NOVIC) organic breeding workshop and tropical Culinary Breeding Network Showcase. Read more about these events in Hawaii here.