Chirs Reberg-Horton, organic cropping specialist at North Carolina State University, says, “Our breeding for organic cropping systems (BOPS) project ended its first year. The project has endured a few setbacks, but continues to move forward to provide more variety options for organic corn, soybeans, wheat, and peanuts in the Southeast.”

Major Goodman, NCSU corn breeder, continues work on developing organic corn hybrids with a specific gametophytic gene that does not allow pollination by non-gametophytic corn types, thus organic corn varieties with the gametophytic gene would not cross pollinate with genetically modified corn, which is not allowed for organic production.

With these corn lines it will be possible to make crosses back to gametophytic corn lines developed at NCSU. Such genetically diverse crosses will ultimately lead to higher yielding hybrids with this out-crossing barrier, Horton says.

The outlook for organic soybean varieties looks just as promising. Tommy Carter, soybean breeder with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, is currently searching over 20,000 soybean genotypes within the USDA soybean germplasm collection for characteristics that contribute to improved ability to compete with weeds. 

Carter has successfully screened about 300 of these genotypes for qualities such as early increased leaf area, early increased height and width, and overall increased canopy vigor.  

He also has made crosses between large leaved and long petioled soybean genotypes. These crosses may result in soybean genotypes that cover the ground quickly and minimize the light that reaches emerging weeds.

NCSU small grains breeders will ramp up efforts this coming wheat season to screen over 100 genotypes for wheat varieties that can tolerate or suppress Italian ryegrass infestations. 

Though not as much in current demand, North Carolina peanut growers in the future may have an opportunity to grow organic peanuts.

Tom Isleib, NCSU peanut breeder, whose program has released a number of popular peanut varieties over the past 20 years, is conducting research to search the peanut core genetics collection to find genotype resistance to fusarium and other damping off diseases that significantly restrict organic peanut production.