03 December 2010

GMO Maize Weirdness

I went yesterday to buy a bag (50kg) of crushed mielies (corn, maize) for chicken feed, and was a bit peeved to see that the price has risen quite a bit since last month. This is in the face of a bumper maize crop in South Africa.

We're seeing headlines like, "S.Africa harvests biggest maize crop in 30 years" at the same time as reports that the USEuropean and Australian corn (and other grain) harvests have been smaller than normal. Should be good for SA farmers, no? Explains why the price is a little higher, no?

No! The trouble is that over 50% of maize planted in SA is one or other GMO variety, and Europe and Japan won't touch any South African maize as a result. Legislation in SA does not require separate handling or labelling for GMO varieties, so some of our biggest markets won't touch our glut of maize.

Simultaneously, and much related, we read that as many as 30% of SA's maize farmers face bankruptcy, as they struggle to find ready markets for all that GMO maize. As a result, "price of maize has fallen precipitously in the last 12 months". Really? Not seeing that, here...

The talking heads expect a significant backlash against GMO varieties from farmers. I hope so! Our government is so deep in Monsanto's pocket that mere mortals stand no chance of getting GMO varieties labelled, sorted or outlawed here. We must simply wait and rely on what goes around coming around, and in the present weirdness it seems it has.

But will farmers' memories stretch so far back come planting time?

02 December 2010

Plant Breeding Ideas

Plant breeding projects I'm interested in tackling...


I am interested in a wider, more interesting range of Carrots. More colours, more flavours. I am particularly interested in one or more varieties that are specifically grown for juicing. They would need to be juicy and somewhat sweet; colour would not matter very much, but a touch of anthocyanin would be a good thing for its nutritional advantages. On the other hand, people might be put off by a "Carrot Juice" that is not orange... (People are funny that way.)


I'd love to see a purple-leaved Savoy or conical Cabbage. Its flavour should be sweeter than most Cabbages, somewhat along the lines of Red Russian Kale, and I'd like it to have a tender, succulent texture. More of a salad Cabbage than a cooking variety. Size should preferably be a bit small so that we don't have to keep chunks of partly-consumed Cabbage hanging about in the back of the fridge because they're way too large to use all at once. This variety would definitely be a "use fresh" type. Heat tolerance while growing would be a big advantage, because Summer is when we would want these, though I guess it might be good in Winter soups, too.


Just interested in working with them, since there don't seem to be too many varieties available (at least locally.) Only "Hollow Crown", in fact.


I'd like to once again taste the Jalapeno x Habanero type I accidentally got a few years ago. Had the size and general shape of a Jalapeno, with the dimples characteristic of Habanero, and a flavour that was a fantastic blend of the two. If all goes well with our weather and water I'll be trying that cross this year.

Then, too, I'd love to see whether C. Baccatum "Amarillo" (Aji Amarillo) will cross with anything else. It's a pretty wide cross, so likely nothing will come of it. Crossing C anuum, chinense and frutescens at least stand a chance; according to my books they share a common ancestral gene complex that allows some of the crosses to work. I'll probably be shooting for crosses between (at least) Purple Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Sweet Banana and Amarillo.

Another accidental cross some years back resulted in a Chile I called Hot Banana: Sweet Banana with something warmer crossed into it, probably Serrano, but maybe Jalapeno. I'd like to try and stabilise something like that. The heat was not very great, perhaps about 4/10, but the Sweet Banana flavour really worked very nicely with a touch of heat.

I'd really like some thin-skinned drying varieties, but with better and more interesting flavours than the commonly-available Long Thin Cayenne. Then, too, ALL varieties could do with better UV-tolerance and drought-resistance than I have seen to date. Another interesting direction could be for better Wintering: most varieties that I have were sourced from the US, frequently from higher latitudes, and they have mostly had their cold-tolerance destroyed or diminished - mostly, I suspect, through it being unattainable under any circumstances in those climates - and I'd like to get it back in. There's no reason for Chiles to be anything but perennial here, since we have no Winter frost at all.


I'd like to see more varieties, and more specialised varieties than the generic "potato" varieties available locally - fryers, boilers, mashing potatoes, salad types,... Greater disease resistance is always of interest, particularly in our climate and soil. Would also be interesting whether one could breed a good-tasting and nutritious Porcupine-resistant variety. :-O

Mostly this means growing from true seed, and few of the commercially available varieties set seed. Challenging...

Beets & Chard:

Interested in where they can go - wild crosses. I'd like to get back to some Sugar Beets, Fodder Beets, Fodder Chard, as well as new, interesting eating varieties. Chard in more colours. Chard grown primarily for its stem, which would need to be flavoursome and stringless. Worthwhile, since Chard lasts so well in the ground, and just keeps on coming while we harvest leaves. Nicely< trouble-free under my growing conditions, too.


Maybe not so much a breeding project as maintaining some of the older
varieties. Modern agribusiness grains are very monopurpose - grain only - and terribly vulnerable in the face of anything but the Full Monty of fertilisers, supplements, and drug cocktails. Not at all suited to permaculture, organic or self-sufficiency setups. Older varieties tended to be more multi-purpose; straw was used for animal bedding, mulch, roofing material, chaff for mulch and composting, sometimes feedstock, fuel. Not to mention that there's a genetic heterogeneity there that's worth preserving, propagating and playing around with in its own right.

That's probably enough to be getting on with for a while... Anybody who can help source genetic material that might be interesting for these, please get in touch with me!

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...