The contribution of farmers to the creation and maintenance of genetic diversity is beginning to receive more recognition in developed countries. Although the use of landraces and historic varieties has largely disappeared in countries with industrialized agricultural systems and formal seed markets, certain varieties with particular cultural significance have been continuously cultivated by farmers and other varieties have been preserved ex situ in genebanks. Recently, associations of organic farmers have become involved in the conservation and use of landraces and historic varieties (called farmer varieties in this article) because these varieties possess agronomic and quality traits that they have not found in modern varieties. In this study, eight farmer varieties of bread wheat from Europe selected by participating farmers were evaluated in onfarm trials during 3 years of cultivation. Each variety was grown on each farm, and phenotypic changes in each variety were measured the third year in a replicated split-plot trial on each farm comparing the version of each variety the farmer had multiplied to a sample of each variety from the region of origin. All varieties, including the two modern pureline varieties used as checks, showed statistically significant phenotypic changes over 3 years of multiplication. However, the magnitude of these changes was moderate and did not call into question varietal identity or distinctness. In addition, some traits of putative agronomic and adaptive importance, such as grain weight per spike and thousand kernel weight, did not respond positively to natural selection (environmental conditions and management practices) which suggests the necessity of farmer selection to maintain and improve varietal performance.
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