Development of a network for the <em>on-farm</em> conservation of crop genetic resources: First results of a pilot project for the re-introduction of old Lactuca varieties to the market


  • C. Lehmann
  • G. Lissek-Wolf
  • R. Vögel
  • S. Huyskens-Keil


In a pilot project, we examined the chance of maintaining plant genetic resources by commercial utilization of old varieties using Lactuca sativa as a model plant. Nine market gardens in the region of Berlin and Brandenburg cultivated 18 old varieties during four cultivation periods to test field performance. They supplied the products to the market in their customary manner to analyse marketing success. Seven of the market gardens practice organic horticulture. In a complementary field trial at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, we established data concerning the field performance of the varieties, analysed dry matter contents, nitrate and phenol concentrations, and observed shelf life for two days under simulated retail conditions (18°C, 80% rel. air humidity).
Generally, yield was acceptable for market purposes. However, cultivation in autumn failed because of the cold climate. Biotic and abiotic factors like slugs or hail caused non-specific damages. Specific problems of particular varieties were less important. Based on the results of 2007, the varieties can be put preliminarily into three categories: suitable for on-farm conservation, suitable for home gardens, and varieties with contrasting results depending on the respective market garden.
The nitrate concentrations of all varieties were clearly below the EU acceptable limit of 2500 mg/kg fresh weight of lettuce grown in the field. The phenol concentrations varied from 3.3 to 17.2 mg GAE/g dry weight. Generally, the cultivars had a reasonable shelf life of one to two days, however three varieties showed a better storability whereas four other cultivars deteriorated rapidly.
Marketing success was good in Berlin City but poor in the countryside of Brandenburg. The regular customers of the market gardens in Berlin who prefer organic food are a promising target group for further stimulation of interest to buy rare crop varieties.
The on-farm conservation of old varieties in market gardens requires relatively large quantities of seeds of good quality. However there might arise problems in seed supply as the VERN e.V. was confronted with bottleneck problems. Therefore, we organised a network of interested market gardens who take on maintenance and propagation of individual varieties. The network will be developed in co-operation with the VERN e.V. who will also process the seed as well as organise the exchange of the various varieties within the network. Further, the network will deal with problems concerning maintenance breeding and seed quality.