May 2022 - What is a Plant Breeder?

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Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC)

May 2022 Gearing up to sow title picture

What are your growing goals?

As a new field season begins, farmers and growers everywhere are tilling their ground and sowing seed. A personal garden of fruits and vegetables follows the same practices as commercial growers. Whether planting for your personal food supply or anticipate selling at a local farmers' market, the basics of starting up are achieved in 6 simple steps: planning; site selection; soil preparation; planting your seeds; maintaining your garden; and harvesting.  Check "Topic Tools" below for links to guide your planning...


Bulletin Contents this Month:

  1. Seeds of Knowledge - What is a Plant Breeder?
  2. Topic Tools - Resources for responsible planting
  3. Related Subjects - Beekeeping and Specialty Crops
  4. Kids' Korral - Fun (and instructional) resources
  5. The News Mill - Headlines and Events

Seeds of Knowledge, Bringing America's Science to the People. Text over emerging seedling. USDA.

Seeds of Knowledge - Bringing America's Science to the People delivers the world of science to your inbox with down-to-earth narratives provided by different USDA experts across a variety of topics. This casual forum gives everyone an opportunity to get "into the dirt" of agricultural research.

What is a Plant Breeder?

Plant breeding is an ancient activity that originated as our ancestors shifted from gathering wild plants to growing them in a controlled manner. Modern plant breeders are scientists with advanced degrees in genetics, statistics, and plant mating systems. Everything we eat or wear, that is not derived from man-made or animal products, started in the hands of a plant breeder. What do plant breeders do? They fast forward evolution – using artificial selection (or “cherry-picking” parents...this is also how humans select a mate) – away from what nature would typically prefer (natural selection). Continue reading to learn how this affects you...


Plant breeding derivatives of wild mustard species

(The image above illustrates plant breeding derivatives of the common wild mustard Brassica oleracea.)

Topic Tools. Text over image of partial seedling.

Responsible planting...

Planting should be a fun activity, but also includes managing our natural resources by practicing caution. Plants and seeds for planting pose a significant risk to U.S. agriculture and natural resources because they can carry insect pests and pathogens. Seeds can also be mixed with noxious weed seeds.

Always ensure you are getting seed from a reputable source. 

** Contact an Extension Service Agent near you for questions regarding soil, insects, plants, etc. They provide free expert guidance specific to your area. **

Related Subjects. Text over image of partial seedling.

AFSIC contains information supporting planting and growing, production practices, and so much more. This month we are highlighting beekeeping (apiculture) and specialty crops.

Read on to find out more...


Beekeeping / Apiculture

The USDA-ARS sponsors five Bee Research Labs that "facilitate knowledge transfer of sustainable, bee health management practices to secure continued pollination of our natural and agricultural plant communities." The western honey bee (Apis mellifera; pictured left) has been domesticated for honey production and pollination of the nation’s crops. Learn about bee history, colony collapse disorder (CCD), creating a pollinator-friendly field/garden, and so much more on AFSIC's Beekeeping page.


Specialty Crops

Specialty crops include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture). Eligible plants must be cultivated or managed and used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and/or aesthetic gratification to be considered specialty crops. Ethnic crops, heirloom varieties, and many crops used to create non-food products are also included.

Kids' Korral. Text over image of partial seedling.

It's never too early to start teaching kids about agriculture and science! Review instructional books, teaching aids, course outlines, support organizations and other teaching resources for all levels - kindergarten, high school and beyond on AFSIC's Classroom and Curricula page.

The News Mill. Text over image of dried wheat stalks. USDA

Headlines and Events:

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center

The National Agricultural Library’s Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) specializes in resourcing data, research, training, and other tools pertinent to establishing and maintaining alternative cropping systems and/or sustainable agricultural production across a variety of plant and animal species. AFSIC includes information on production practices, marketing, local and community food systems, and environmental justice in support of the USDA's effort to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture and farmers worldwide.

Email the AFSIC team: afsic@ars.usda