Balance on the Participatory Maize Breeding workshop in INTA Pergamino

On Tuesday, May 31, a balance was held among the participants of the Participatory Maize Breeding Workshop at INTA Pergamino in order to share our perspectives, learnings and projections from it.

One of the most valued aspects was the possibility of having met again in person to share these learning processes.

Milton Vélez –corn producer–, moved by the meeting, highlighted: “Today meeting people physically is something extraordinary and not ordinary; a virtual meeting like the one we have now is something ordinary, but the power of meeting physically is something else that doesn’t even have a comparison, it’s something far superior. I celebrate and promote the physical encounter.”

María Laura Bravo –Bioleft’s extensionist– commented that she was pleasantly surprised by the degree of participation obtained, “it is still a stage of reunion, it seems to me that we are all participating in this mix of virtuality-face-to-face and I think it was an important challenge”.

Gustavo Schrauf –Genetics teacher and member of Bioleft– celebrated the modality and dynamics of the meeting “I think it allowed us to get to know each other and deepen the bonds; it is an important stepping stone on the path that we are traveling because those two things are necessary for the construction”.

The conversation was oriented around some trigger questions. Regarding the main learnings and new knowledge that they took away from the day, the participants shared:

“I always make it clear that I am not an agronomist, so for me from the beginning that I have known Bioleft, I am always learning,” commented producer José Amuchástegui. “For me it was extremely enriching and I also come out admiring INTA for its great work, understanding a little more about the possibility of generating seeds, varieties in this case of corn,” he continued. “I think we all learned not only from seeing very original evaluation works, but also from the discussions that were generated”, added Gustavo Schrauf.

The next selection that I am going to make next year I am going to face it with a lot of new things that I did not do before, I underestimated them in terms of their result, and now it seems to me that I understood several things that I did not see, or some things that seem ultra simple but that I had not realized, and in reality I worked ten times more than I can work doing the same thing”, shared Claudio Demo, corn producer. “To self-fertilize a line, I would set up as many plots isolated from one another as lines I wanted to multiply, then once I separated by distance and planting time, at most, 3 or 4 plots would enter my entire field. With this cover with the bag, cut the flower and fertilize, you can put 100 lines at the same time and self-fertilize them all and there is no problem. That is one thing I had limitations with.”

Pablo Carletti –corn producer–, for his part, was surprised and interested in the diversity of production models, schemes and approaches to corn production. “One learns from the different approaches that one or the other can give them that will adapt more to a production model or to a market that each one wants to do or develop. Finding people who are in research, who are working in line selection, in the production of organic products, also INTA’s vision; for me it was enriching from the point of view of the breadth of ideas that one can have or take, and then each one will choose the path that they like the most or that convinces them the most”.

Milton highlighted the knowledge gained from working with inbred lines and how the F5 generation allows you to really see the characteristics of each. “That edge of thought or analysis seemed interesting to me, I did not find it in any book or if I did find it I did not interpret it”. He also highlighted, like María Paz dos Santos –Bioleft extensionist–, the knowledge about more heritable secondary characters for the selection, for example, of ears with a greater number of rows, 14 or 16, which is a trait that can reach one to capture in the next biological cycle.

Enrico Cresta –producer of organic corn and member of Bioleft– based on what he learned during the workshop, concluded that the different improvement strategies are complementary, “it is not that the variety or the hybrid is better, be it simple or double”, and that it is important to continue working in parallel on each one. “INTA has a proposal for a simple hybrid to supplant those we have that depend on the market, and even with what INTA taught us and what we learned at the meeting, farmers have strategies to make improvements to our varieties. I have an idea that working with the variety allows me to adapt it a lot to the [organic, in his case] system and maintain my own seed. The strategies that they show in Pergamino that are to generate a clash of blood, so it can be mixed with a hybrid, crossed with a pure line, and that is a strategy I think that in the future it will give us the possibility of improving the variety and of maintaining it with adaptation to the system. All that we are learning are tools that can work and feed results both in performance and stability and in quality for the future, which is why I think this is huge”.

Another learning that was recognized was that of the genotype evaluation strategy at high planting densities to emulate stress situations. “I thought it was a very interesting strategy. It did not seem so complex to me to carry out and yet it seemed very rich for the evaluation part”, commented María Laura.

About the trigger question of the points that the participants believe must be improved, Milton proposed linking us with the other link in agriculture, which is the kitchen, “because it is when small-scale productions are linked to the kitchen that there is an added value that makes them have sustenance”. In addition, he explained why his initial idea of ​​working with open-pollinated varieties solely for an economic reason is no longer justified in the same way as before: “On the one hand, when cereals have a good value, the difference between a hybrid and a potential yield of a variety easily pays the value of the [hybrid seed] bag. But there is also another edge that is, for example, when I make the variety, plant it and sell it by truck, there is no added value but a saving in the cost of the seed as a producer, I am not on the side of the consumer”. He concluded: “For me, the future of varieties is closing the circle with the final consumer, human or animal undifferentiated, and not simply because of a chance to save the cost of the seed. The varieties cannot compete with hybrids on yield, that’s why the varieties must have their added value in the grain, in protein quality as Claudio comments on Quarentín, or greater lysine and tryptophan as Opaque 2 corn has, oil quality, vitamin A, etc.”.

In relation to this, José added that, in his opinion, there is a lot of ignorance in Argentina about what variety is good for what or what use can be given to it, since the direct consumption of corn is much lower than that of wheat. “Then a line of work could be with each variety to go at the same time doing an apprenticeship to see what it is used for in other markets, see what uses it can be given in the kitchen, and using the small productions that are being made in the development of each seed that each producer is making”.

Daniel Presello, corn breeder from INTA Pergamino, highlighted the importance of corn nutrition, especially for animal production. “At CIMMYT they have managed to solve that,” he commented, “they added 4 or 5 genes that make up QPM maize, which, in addition to having protein with a high nutritional value, has good commercial quality. I believe that for the profile of producers that we are thinking of, who consume the corn in the farm, that is a characteristic that we should consider introducing. And the other issue that produces a great loss of yield is the issue of insects, as we do not have Bt protection and we do not intend to spray, but there are genes that are available that are also being introduced.”

Como conclusiones del balance, la satisfacción por el trabajo realizado hasta el momento y la visión de seguir trabajando en conjunto fueron comunes a todxs. “Después conocer la cantidad de variedades que están realizando en INTA pergamino, y ver ese trabajo también da entusiasmo y ánimo a seguir trabajando en este camino que es el mejoramiento participativo” comentó la docente de Genética e integrante de Bioleft, Selva Cuppari. “Cuando estás acá sin poder ir al campo, sin poder tener el contacto con la gente que está haciendo esto se generan dudas, si venimos bien o mal. Y este tipo de encuentros o este en encuentro en particular a mí me generó eso, muchísimo entusiasmo, para seguir acá en este grupo avanzando y por qué no que se sigan sumando participantes, gente interesada”. 

As conclusions of the balance, the satisfaction for the work carried out up to now and the vision of continuing to work together were common to all. “After learning about the number of varieties that INTA pergamino is making, and seeing that work also gives enthusiasm and encouragement to continue working on this path that is participatory breeding,” commented the Genetics teacher and member of Bioleft, Selva Cuppari. “When you are here without being able to go to the field, without being able to have contact with the people who are doing this, doubts arise, whether we are doing well or not. And this type of meeting or this meeting in particular generated that for me, a lot of enthusiasm, to continue here in this group advancing and why not continue to add participants, interested people”.

“I am leaving motivated to try some other variety of corn in the next planting and with the desire to generate, to breed seeds,” added José. “So my conclusion is that it leaves us with a pretty interesting door.”

Luciana Galizia –INTA Pergamino maize breeder– also shared her satisfaction with the outcome of the workshop and highlighted the importance of interaction and continuity of common work between producers and researchers. “We don’t have many opportunities for producers to come to INTA to see the breeding program and demand things, so for me it’s great. And also that it seems that it is going to continue, I think the conditions are set for that”. Along the same line, Daniel said: “I was very happy because we have opportunities to work directly with farmers. There are intentions to work and I believe that INTA has to support this type of initiative”.

For our part, we will continue to promote participatory learning and breeding processes. We thank everyone for the enthusiasm and commitment in each activity, and we will continue on this path working for free and biodiverse seeds. If you want to be part, do not hesitate to approach.