Participatory Breeding of 'Who Gets Kissed?' Sweet Corn
Sweet corn is an essential crop for many organic farmers, and farmer-breeder Martin Diffley is no exception. But Martin couldn’t find an organic variety that worked on his farm. So he collaborated with plant breeders to make one.
Martin had been growing sweet corn on his Minnesota farm for decades, but in that time he’d gotten frustrated with the varieties available. They either rotted in the cold, wet spring soil or, lacking vigor, could not compete with weeds. No one was breeding for the traits that were important to organic farmers.
One day, Dr. John Navazio of the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) visited Martin and mentioned that he knew a breeder selecting for better cool soil emergence—Dr. Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin—and a participatory breeding project began.
Jared Zystro, then Bill’s grad student, planted over a hundred breeding plots on Martin’s farm; Martin selected for the traits he wanted from the plots, and Bill and John ensured the correct pollinations were made to improve the variety. Their ultimate goal was to develop an OP se (open-pollinated sugary enhanced) sweet corn with good cold soil emergence, early vigor, disease resistance, great flavor and large, well-filled ears. These traits had only existed before in hybrid varieties.
Only a few plots had plants with vigor, disease-resistance and good flavor. That winter, seed from the best was sent to a “winter nursery” in Chile, and Bill continued crossing the best individuals and generating new families.
The next year these were planted on Martin’s farm, this time with Bill’s grad student Adrienne Shelton leading the evaluations and selections. After four more years of selecting supported by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), they decided to release “Who Gets Kissed?” in 2014.
The name is based on a game played at corn husking bees across early America. All corn was OP back then, and very diverse. When a person found an ear with red, instead of yellow kernels (a very rare occurrence), they could choose whom to kiss! While you won’t find any red ears, OP variability is a signature of “Who Gets Kissed?” and provided the inspiration for its name.
We were also lucky enough to have Adrienne recently join our team at High Mowing! Thanks to these amazing breeders, we have this variety available to share with you, and we look forward to more participatory breeding projects in the future. As an open-pollinated variety, seeds from 'Who Gets Kissed?' can be selected and saved; the breeders hope that growers will adapt the variety to the unique conditions in their own fields. We are proud to contribute 10% of our sales of “Who Get’s Kissed?” back to OSA and Martin Diffley to support future organic breeding efforts.
We are pleased to offer 'Who Gets Kissed?' in our 2015 catalog! Click below to see this collaborative variety on our website, or read our Press Release to learn more.