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Monika Messmer
(Dr. sc. agr)

Department of Crop Sciences
Group lead Plant Breeding
Ackerstrasse 113
CH-5070 Frick

Phone +41 (0)62 865-0443
Fax +41 (0)62 865-7273

New project: Coordinating organic plant breeding activities for diversity (COBRA)

A new European-wide project to support the development of plant breeding focused on the needs of organic producers has recently begun.

(May 07, 2013) 

Funded through the funding bodies, which are partners in the ERA-Net project CORE Organic II, the project aims to improve seed quality and health, promote genetic and crop diversity, and encourage the adoption of suitable materials by organic producers. FiBL is one of the project partners.

Organic plant production is currently challenged by several pressure factors. Along with perennial problems such as weed control, climate change is threatening to affect crop production through increasing weather variability.

Plant breeding is a crucial factor in creating organic crop production systems that can better cope with such interacting stresses and producers need crop varieties with

  • good resistance against pests and diseases, esp. seed borne diseases;
  • the ability to react to environmental, esp. climatic variability; and
  • high competitiveness against weeds. COBRA aims to support and develop organic plant breeding and seed production with a focus on increasing the use and potential of plant material with High genetic Diversity (Hi-D) in cereals (wheat and barley) and grain legumes (pea and faba bean) through coordinating, linking and expanding existing breeding and research.

Although Hi-D-based systems have shown promising results in organic systems and are currently subject to intensive research, their benefits can at present not be exploited, due to agronomic, regulatory and other hurdles. Also, it is currently unclear which plant breeding approaches, Hi-D-based or else, are most efficient to breed varieties for organic agriculture.

Therefore, COBRA aims are

  • to improve methods ensuring seed quality and health;
  • to determine the potential to increase resilience, adaptability, and overall performance in organic systems by using crop diversity at various levels;
  • to improve breeding efficiency and to develop novel breeding methods to enhance and maintain crop diversity;
  • to identify and remove structural barriers to organic plant breeding and seed production; and
  • to improve networking and dissemination in organic plant breeding.

COBR's strength is its focus on coordinating, linking and expanding on-going organic breeding activities in cereals and grain legumes across Europe, drawing together experts from previously fragmented areas.

FiBL's role

FiBL Switzerland is an associated partner organization of COBRA. FiBL shares experience in organic plant breeding and participate in the scientific discussions. As an associate partner, FiBL Switzerland will contribute to COBRA, especially to

  • Work package 2 Breeding for Resilience: Task 2.21: Coping with climate change by contributing to genetic diverse Composite Cross Populations (CCP) of winter wheat that have been propagated in Switzerland in the scope of the trial coordinated by Prof. M. Finckh (Kassel University, Germany) and to
  • Work package 3 Improving breeding efficiency: Task 3.2. Evolutionary, participatory and marker-assisted selection approaches in grain legumes coordinated by P. Annicchiarico, Centro di Ricerca p. l. Produzioni Foraggere e Lattiero-Casearie Lodi, IT.

Project leader and partners

The project is co-ordinated by Dr Bruce Pearce of the Organic Research Centre Elm Farm, UK.

  • Aegean Agricultural Research Institute, TU
  • Aalborg University, DK
  • Agrologica, DK
  • Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica, IT
  • Aarhus University, DK
  • Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming, NO
  • University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences,  AT
  • University of Copenhagen, DK   
  • Centro di Ricerca p. l. Produzioni Foraggere e Lattiero-Casearie, IT
  • Centre de Recherche Public-Gabriel Lippmann, LU
  • National Institute for Agricultural Research, F
  • Technical Institute of Organic Farming, F
  • Institute for Sustainable Development, SI
  • Knudsen Plant Breeding, DK,
  • Kassel University, DE,
  • Lantmännen SW Seed, SE
  • MTT Agrifood Research Finland, FI
  • Nordic Seed, DK
  • SRUC, UK
  • Sejet Plantbreeding, DK
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE
  • Technical University of Denmark, DK
  • Technische Universität München, DE
  • VLF, DK
  • Bayer. Landesanstalt für Landwirtschaft, DE
  • University of Udine, IT
  • University of Maribor, SI
  • University College Ghent,  BE
  • Oikos - Organic Norway, NO
  • Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), CH               
  • Graminor, NO
  • Jõgeva Plant Breeding Institute, EE
  • Organic Seed Producers, UK
  • State Priekuli Plant Breeding Institute, LV
  • State Stende Cereal Breeding Institute, LV
  • Agricultural Institute Hungarian Academy of Sciences, HU
  • Saatzucht DonauGesmbH & CoKG, AT
  • Nordic Genetic Resource Center, SE
  • Louis Bolk Instituut, NL

Further information


  • Coordinator of COBRA: Dr. Bruce Pearce, Organic Research Centre, UK
  • Contact at FiBL: Dr. Monika Messmer


Main sources of funding

Financial support for this project provided by the CORE Organic II Funding Bodies, being partners of the FP7 ERA-Net project, CORE Organic II (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming systems, Project no. 249667).