Traditional programs centralize the breeding process at institutions. CIN is made up of an expanding network of participatory growers that takes the breeding process on-farm, using pedigreed-seedling families. On-farm evaluations allow breeding for multiple target environments and incorporating grower insight and feedback into selection criteria. There are three ways growers can be members in this network.
Donating members contribute plant materials (scion, pollen) to the network from on-farm selections that demonstrate, through observation and evaluation, breeding value. Breeding value implies that selections hold traits of interest and express them in program target environments. Donating members may maintain ownership of their plant materials, but they permit their use in breeding for CIN.
Breeding members purchase and cultivate full-sibling families and/or curated open pollinated families. These breeding populations must be composed of at least 250 individuals from the CIN breeding material. Breeding members participate, based on their interests, with CIN research staff to evaluate and make field selections from these families.
Supporting members are chestnut growers and enthusiasts that may not have existing trees to donate or orchards large enough for systematic breeding but would like to participate and engage with the network. Supporting members may purchase and grow smaller quantities of CIN plant material and engage with the CIN community in Q&A, the member forum (nuts and bolts), and public forum (broad grower engagement and extension platform).
The Role of the Breeding Member is to cultivate their orchard as they would commercially but with CIN breeding seedlings in a blocked layout of families, so that applied breeding can be integrated. The breeding material may be full-sibling families or open-pollinated families, as long as the material is from our program.
The greatest genetic gain comes from scale, and at present, the minimum number of trees for a Breeding Member is 250 (initial spacing at 70-110 trees/acre depending on density). Breeding Members will need to work with the research staff to incorporate blocking of multiple families in the orchard layout.
Growers are themselves not required to collect any data on performance, but easy to apply methods and resources are available should they be so inclined. The orchard simply needs to remain accessible to MU and CIN researchers for evaluation and potential propagation of selections.
Prior experience cultivating chestnuts is not required, but previous experience growing trees or other crops is preferred. Cultivating a chestnut orchard does represent a serious commitment.