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  • Author or Editor: Kevin Gibson x
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Soil incorporation of biochar appears to increase plant growth in some environments. However, the effect of biochar on root system architecture (RSA) or on weeds is not well understood. Our objective was to examine the effect of biochar on the growth and RSA of large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis L. Scop.), a common and problematic weed. Plants were grown in rhizoboxes filled with field soil ± either a low-nutrient biochar (LNB) or a high-nutrient biochar (HNB). Rhizoboxes were either filled uniformly with field soil ± biochar (solid) or with + biochar and − biochar-amended field soil so that each occupied half of the rhizobox (split). Large crabgrass biomass and RSA were affected by biochar type in the solid design rhizoboxes and large crabgrass roots proliferated in biochar-amended soil in the split rhizoboxes, regardless of biochar type. This study provides evidence that plant roots can detect and grow toward biochar and suggests that the addition of biochar to soils may increase the ability of large crabgrass to spread vegetatively.

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Local production of organic tomatoes marketed directly to consumers is growing rapidly in the U.S. Midwest. Growers serving this market need cultivars that are well adapted to local climatic conditions, are competitive under organic management, and have end-use quality characteristics desired by their customers. Participatory plant breeding is a powerful, cost-effective approach with potential to engage growers in development of new cultivars optimally adapted to organic farming systems. To initiate a participatory breeding program for organic tomatoes an online grower survey was conducted to identify key plant traits, and a diverse set of tomato germplasm was evaluated under organic management to better understand horticultural constraints and identify adapted germplasm for further development. Tomato growers rated flavor as their top breeding priority, followed by disease resistance with late blight (LB) (Phytophthora infestans), early blight (EB) (Alternaria solani), and septoria leaf spot (SLS) (Septoria lycopersici) identified as the most problematic diseases. In field trials, foliar diseases were problematic in both years, though many entries exhibited partial resistance. Differences among entries in resistance to insect pests such as hornworms (Manduca sexta) were also observed. Yield varied widely among entries with some of the F1 hybrids and heirloom cultivars performing well despite significant disease pressure. Overall, we identified existing cultivars and F1 hybrids with potential to meet the immediate needs of Midwest organic tomato growers, and segregating breeding populations for further selection to be conducted on working organic farms.

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