Cultivating diversity – AGENT wheat and barley accessions on display during a farmers’ field day in the Tuscan hills
On 9-10 June 2023, the Italian seed diversity network Rete Semi Rurali (RSR) organized their annual field days at the organic farm Floriddia in Tuscany. RSR is participating in the evaluation of selected wheat, barley and durum accessions of AGENT partners’ genebanks under organic conditions, involving their network of organic farmers across Italy. Around 50 stakeholders attended the field days, representing farmers, brewers, bakers, researchers and other interested public who visited stations set up in fields dedicated to RSR projects. AGENT partners Patrizia Vaccino (CREA-CI), Sandra Goritschnig and Lorenzo Maggioni (both ECPGR) presented the AGENT project in a station dedicated to plant genetic resources and the evaluation of wheat and barley germplasm in the field.
Participants learned about the work of genebanks, the breadth of their collections and efforts within AGENT to improve the management of data and collections using capacity building and bioinformatics tools. Visitors to the AGENT stand were interested in the properties of the diverse hard and soft wheat landraces in the field trial, focusing on aspects important for organic cultivation: ground coverage, weed competition, adaptability for intercropping, plant height, lodging and of course disease resistances. Due to the wet spring in Italy, the fields suffered a lot from lodging and several fungal diseases, but farmers still showed interest in growing accessions on display in their own fields, being impressed by the large diversity of wheat landraces.
Participants appreciated the interaction between growers and researchers and the exchange of ideas and knowledge during the event, highlighting the important role of European projects in generating and disseminating knowledge on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and especially sharing and bringing the genetic material conserved in European genebanks to the field. Brewers guided participants through the barley varieties provided by AGENT partners for evaluation under organic conditions, discussing the contributions different barley varieties can have on the quality of the final product. Another station organized during the field day informed on agroecology, looking at how to evaluate the fertility of the soil based on presence of soil organisms. In the final station, RSR discussed with participants prospects and opportunities for varietal selection and organic seeds in Italy and Europe, promoting the EU project LIVESEEDING. The programme also included a beer tasting with local breweries Birrificio San Gimignano and Opificio Birraio, who are using organically grown local barley varieties in their brewing. A round table on experiences of farmers growing heterogeneous materials was followed by a tasting of breads baked with different locally grown populations of wheat, which showed interesting differences in texture and flavours. The programme finished with workshops on the new EU seed legislation due in summer 2023 and the TRIBIOME project, which works on exploring the wheat microbiome. All participants enjoyed the hospitality of the Floriddia farm’s owner Rosario, the excellent food prepared from locally grown ingredients and above all the opportunity to interact with each other and discuss the challenges and opportunities of organic farming in Europe/Italy.