As we head into June we are now preparing for our second crop of the 2016 BC Seed Trials – Lacinato kale.
We chose kale for the first year of the BC Seed Trials for a number of reasons. First, kale is a prominent and high value crop for BC fresh markets. It is also a crop with the potential for improved season extension, including through the use of varieties which yield better in the late fall and early spring. Next, from a seed industry standpoint, BC’s relatively mild winters are well suited to growing biennial seed crops like kale. Because such crops pose more challenges in regions with colder climates, kale seed may be a good specialization for BC growers. Finally, farmer-led and participatory plant breeding projects in the Pacific Northwest have yielded improved open-pollinated kale varieties in recent years. A few BC farmers are already growing some of these varieties, but they have yet to be widely tested in BC compared to older heirlooms. If they perform well in our trials, these varieties might be good entry points for seed growers looking to scale up.
In order to avoid overwhelming growers with too large of a trial, we wanted to focus on one kale type. Lacinato is a kale with strong interest from chefs and consumers for its culinary qualities, and a type with room for improvement in terms of cold hardiness and productivity, making it a good candidate for trialing new varieties. Unlike in curly kale, there are currently no hybrid varieties of lacinato kale, meaning that more of the varieties on the market are good candidates for seed production by small-scale or beginning seed producers in BC.
From conversations with plant breeders who are familiar with kale, we learned that although many seed companies offer heirloom varieties named simply “Lacinato,” these varieties are not all the same and may show significant variation for a number of traits. We corresponded with seed companies offering lacinato kale varieties to learn how their seed is sourced and how their seed stock is maintained. The varieties chosen for this trial therefore represent distinct strains of lacinato which have been maintained or selected differently. With participating farmers, we will be collaboratively evaluating their potential as seed and fresh market crops in BC.