Wheat School: What Should We Expect of Hybrid Wheat?

For many farmers, seeing corn production top 200 or 250 bushels an acre simply leaves them wondering, “Why can’t wheat get over 100, 150 bushels an acre?” Winter wheat can, and certainly spring wheat does now and again, but not consistently enough to pull the averages up even into the high 90s for many farms. Hybridization of canola and corn have worked, dare we say it, miracles for those crops. Where is wheat’s hybrid solution?

First off, hybridization of wheat is in the works. But, perhaps more importantly, farmers and industry need to be realistic about what hybrid wheat will actually mean on the farm. For those expecting a sudden jump of spring wheat consistently yielding over 100 or 150 bushels an acre need to keep their expectations in check. As Francis Kirigwi, wheat breeder with Syngenta Canada, shares in this Wheat School episode, wheat breeding is complex and there’s so much more to be done even if breeders perfect hybridization.

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RealAgriculture Agronomy Team

A team effort of RealAgriculture videographers and editorial staff to make sure that you have the latest in agronomy information for your farm.

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One Comment

Brian Rossnagel

Good to see a breeder suggesting more reasonable yield increase expectations for cereals at 10 – 15%, although many cereal breeders (including myself) doubt the upper level of that hybrid advantage will be achieved with the actual plus likely being more like 5 – 10% especially when specific quality traits are required, e.g. malting barley. And once you get to a more realistic expectation of a 5 – 10% increase in yield then conventional breeding will be able to keep up with that genetic increase and the farmer won’t have to give up their ability to re-use their own seed, nor will the system need to bear the significant additional costs associated with hybrid seed production in cereals. Hybrid cereals are good for breeding companies to protect their intellectual property, but for farmers, maybe not so much…………

However, where in heck does this concept that hybrids are more stable than inbreds come from? Where is the empirical data to back up this information? If the logic is that hybrids are more stable because they are more uniform, this fails the Rossnagel BioBS test for cereals. While this may be true for a crop like corn or canola where a hybrid is more uniform than the the open-pollinated varieties that were previously the norm, for cereals, which traditionally have been provided as varieties which are inbred lines, this is not the case since those highly inbred lines are for all intents and purposes are completely uniform, just like an F1 hybrid. This is even more so the case for cereal varieties developed by the doubled haploid process where by definition the variety is “perfectly” homozygous and thus “completely” uniform. There are several good double haploid wheat and barley varieties and I doubt their developers would suggest they were any more or less stable than their highly inbred normal cereal variety counterparts.

Brian Rossnagel
Barley & Oat Breeder
Univ of Sask.

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