• Ali Karley and Charlotte Bickler

Breeding for crop mixtures: Opportunities and challenges

Why this workshop, why now? Our work on cultivar selection for intercropping has highlighted a need for more knowledge about crop genotypes suited for cultivation in mixed cropping. Cultivars selected for sole cropping might not perform well in crop mixtures as the traits required for sole versus mixed cropping can differ. Breeding for mixtures, however, is complex, and so the workshop set out to address this challenge by identifying existing knowledge and knowledge gaps in four topic areas:

- Relevant breeding targets

- Operational breeding methods

- Managing genotype-environment interactions

- Market opportunities and challenges

The workshop brought together crop scientists, breeders and organisations working closely with farmers (c. 25 people in total). After an introduction by Lars Kiær outlining the challenge (University of Copenhagen), the discussions were kicked off with flash talks by Grietje Raaphorst-Travaille (Nordic Maize Breeding, NL) who outlined the various crop combinations that she is working with for maize selection, and Benedikt Haug (FiBL, Switzerland) who introduced Getreidezüchtung Peter Kunz’s work on pea breeding for pea-barley mixtures. Benedikt is now conducting his PhD as part of the ReMIX project on the 'Development of genetic models to breed for mixed cropping systems' and he presented his work in a session on breeding for interspecific mixtures at the conference.

First news from the conference has been published by Diverimpacts - stay tuned for reports from across all members of the Crop Diversification Cluster.

Back in the workshop, the participants were divided into four discussion groups, each tasked with representing the views of a specific stakeholder group (breeder, crop scientist, farmer, processor) and asked to identify the major advances in mixture breeding and the key knowledge gaps from the perspective of ‘their’ stakeholder group. The discussions were facilitated by cluster colleagues Jerome Enjalbert (INRA), Emma Forst (INRA, France), Benedikt Haug, Wijnand Sukkel (WUR, NL), Charlotte Bickler (ORC, UK) and Frédéric Muel (Terres Inovia, France). Feedback from the discussion groups highlighted similarities and differences between the stakeholder perspectives in terms of the traits considered of greatest importance. Below is a summary of the discussion from the farmer's perspective, do you agree with the points being drawn?

It is clear that breeding for mixtures adds complexities to the breeding process but breeding in mixtures also provides opportunities. The opportunities for novel breeding methods, such as population breeding, and participatory breeding approaches were highlighted in different groups. It was an intensive session packed with ideas and inspiration for future breeding work. We will be consolidating the different group’s perspectives and developing a more detailed output identifying the opportunities and challenges presented by breeding for crop mixtures soon.


The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under agreement No. 727284.