Almost $1 Million Committed to 13 Wheat Research Projects

Alberta wheat growers are contributing nearly $1 million to 13 wheat-related research projects across Western Canada over the next five years. A total of $970,000 in research funding was announced by the Alberta Wheat Commission in Calgary yesterday.

“Investing in research is one of our key priorities as it ensures farmers have consistent access to new and better varieties as well as advanced agronomic knowledge,” said AWC chair Kent Erickson in a news release. “Access to innovation is integral in building the Canadian wheat brand and maintaining our competitive edge in the international marketplace.”

The projects will focus on issues ranging from plant growth regulator application to how weather affects gluten strength. More details on each project can be found below.

Six of the studies were funded through the Agriculture Funding Consortium, a group of 13 organizations created to form a one-window approach to ag research development funding in Alberta. The consortium says it leverages producer check-off dollars at a rate of 1:11.3. Seven other projects were funded independently by AWC.

Projects funded via the Agriculture Funding Consortium:

Development of synthetic food bait traps to monitor multiple cutworm pests and minimize bee by-catch.
Principle Investigator: Dr. Maya Evendeen, University of Alberta
Co-funders: ACIDF, WGRF
Cutworms and armyworms (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) are a complex of several pest species that affect multiple crops grown in Canada. There is a need for efficient monitoring tools that can determine the spatial and temporal distribution of cutworms and alert growers to impending outbreaks, while excluding bee pollinators. The current work will research food bait traps as an alternative to species-specific pheromone traps as a tool to monitor multiple species of cutworm in wheat and canola systems. The result of this work will be a food-based monitoring tool attractive to multiple cutworm species over short distances so that trap catch reflects local moth population density.

Coordinated N and S fertilizer management to increase crop N uptake and reduce environmental N losses
Principle Investigator: Dr. Miles Dyck, University of Alberta
Co-funders: ACIDF
Crops require an adequate supply of all macro- and micronutrients for high yield and efficient use of fertilizers. Adequate S and P have been shown to increase crop recovery of applied N in the year of application, but there is little research on how fertilization history effects annual crop nutrient uptake and soil greenhouse gas emissions. This research quantifies the effects of long-term N and S fertilization on crop nutrient use efficiency and N2O emissions on S-deficient, grey soils.

Identifying new genes in domesticated intermediate wheatgrass to improve biotic and abiotic stress resistance and grain quality for wheat
Principle Investigator: Dr. James Larsen, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Co-funders: AI Bio
Intermediate wheatgrass has been a reservoir of biotic and abiotic resistance genes for wheat over the past 70 years, yet very little is known about the species in terms of important disease resistance traits for western Canada. This project proposes to evaluate agronomically improved ‘Kernza’ type intermediate wheatgrass breeding lines from The Land Institute for stripe rust and Fusarium head blight. Field evaluation combined with molecular analysis and crossing between resistant intermediate wheatgrass and major market classes of wheat will provide important molecular information and disease resistant germplasm to breeders working on annual crops. This project also has the potential to provide new germplasm for perennial wheat breeders looking to develop a more sustainable cropping system.

Improvement in wheat carbon flux for increased yield and harvest index
Principle Investigator: Dr. Elizabeth Marillia, National Research Council of Canada
Co-funders: AI Bio
This project proposes to increase grain yield by manipulating cellular carbon flux for the production of improved wheat varieties with higher productivity. More specifically, our goal is to reduce the activity of a key regulatory enzyme for higher photosynthetic production and consequent increased seed size and weight, using the genome editing technology of Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR/Cas9). The resulting elite cultivars will benefit the Alberta wheat industry by increasing producers’ competitiveness in a growing global market.

This project proposes to increase grain yield and Harvest Index (HI) by manipulating cellular carbon flux for the production of improved wheat varieties with higher productivity. More specifically, our goal is to reduce the activity of a negative regulatory enzyme that controls a key reaction in the cellular carbon metabolism from the leaf (source) to the seed (sink). The immediate effect of this reduced negative control will translate into an enhanced migration of carbon building blocks into the seed and a resulting increase in seed size and weight (carbon push). Ultimately, this accelerated carbon flux will itself translate into a globally increased demand for carbon from the photosynthetic leaf tissues (carbon pull). To that end, we propose to apply a recently developed gene editing technology, using Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR/Cas9) to modify the expression of the gene controlling cellular carbon flux. This non-GMO approach will result in the production of elite wheat cultivars that will benefit the whole Alberta wheat industry by increasing producers’ competitiveness in a growing and competitive global market.

Fighting rust fungal crop threats through integrated genomics research
Principle Investigator: Dr. Guus Bakkeren, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Co-funders: WGRF
This project aims to provide cereal growers with timely information on the incursions, occurrence and load of a number of fungal pathogens of importance to Western Canada such as rusts, Fusarium and several leaf spot diseases, so that an integrated pest management regime can be developed. Fungal genome information will allow sensitive diagnostic tool development in collaboration with researchers at AAFC-Lethbridge and Ottawa, and discovery of durable disease resistance and design of novel disease suppression technologies in collaboration with researchers at AAFC-Morden.

Plant Growth Regulators: barley, oat, and wheat variety specificity and appropriate timing for new PGRs
Principle Investigator: Dr. Linda Hall, University of Alberta
Co-funders: ACIDF, ABC
Lodging in cereals in central Alberta is a common cause of yield loss. Plant Growth Regulators (PGR’s) are synthetic inhibitors of plant growth that can reduce plant height, increase stem rigidity and reduce lodging. This research will determine which wheat, oat and barley varieties are sensitive to PGRs, and at what growth stage. In addition mixtures or sequential applications of a PGR will be evaluated. Research will be conducted first in the greenhouse and then at three field sites in southern and central Alberta over three years.

Projects funded via direct investment:

Genomic strategies to improve field survival of winter cereals and stabilized yield
Principle Investigator: Dr. Ravindra Chibbar
Co-funders: WCMI, SWCDC, WGRF

Biology and control of Foxtail barley
Principle Investigator: Dr. Linda Hall, University of Alberta
Co-funders: ACIDF
Foxtail barley is a perennial native bunch grass that is one of the most difficult weeds to control in direct seeded wheat crops. Research will evaluate new and currently available herbicides for control of established and seeding foxtail barley in field and greenhouse research trials. Trials will be conducted over two years in southern, central Alberta and eastern Saskatchewan.

Fusarium graminearum in Alberta wheat and corn: how bad is it really?
Principle Investigator: Dr. Michael Harding, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
Co-funders: ABC, ACIDF
There is significant evidence accumulating that the distribution and severity head blight caused by Fusarium graminearum is increasing in Alberta. However, we do not have representative survey data regarding what areas of the province, if any, are seeing these potential increases. A comprehensive, random, representative survey is needed to characterize the current F. graminearum situation in Alberta. Our survey will evaluate the Fusarium species composition on head samples and evaluate mycotoxin (deoxynivalenol = DON) levels in 700 to 900 wheat fields across Alberta in 2015. The survey will be repeated in 2016. The survey results will help us better understand where Fusarium graminearum is commonly found in Alberta so that appropriate management and avoidance strategies can be recommended.”

The genetics of early maturity as it relates to high yield in the development and breeding of hard red spring wheat for Alberta
Principle Investigator: Dr. Dean Spaner, University of Alberta
Co-funders: ACIDF
The Alberta Wheat Commission has teamed with the Western Grains Research Foundation and the Alberta Crop Industry Development fund to support research at the University of Alberta into the genetics and breeding of early maturity in hard red spring (CWRS) wheat. A great deal of bread wheat grown north of Red Deer (and sometimes in all regions of Alberta) is downgraded because it becomes frost damaged before full maturity. Later maturing wheat can also be more difficult to harvest. This grant will support the development of high yielding, high protein, disease resistant and early maturing CWRS cultivars for Albertan producers. The University of Alberta wheat breeding group will also conduct research geared towards better understanding the genetic basis of early maturity. The project will also develop molecular markers that will make breeding high yielding and early maturing cultivars easier. Early maturing, high yielding wheat will benefit farmers due to timely harvest, higher quality harvest and greater returns. The University will also be developing scientists to work in the future with Alberta’s farming community through graduate student involvement with this project.

Genetics and improvement of Fusarium head blight resistance in spring wheat
Principle Investigator: Dr. Dean Spaner, University of Alberta
Co-funders: ACIDF
The Alberta Wheat Commission has teamed with the Western Grains Research Foundation and the Alberta Crop Industry Development fund to support research at the University of Alberta into the genetics and breeding for Fusarium head blight (FHB) resistance in spring (CWRS, CPS and GP) wheat. FHB is a devastating fungal disease of wheat. It has become a serious problem in western Canada and is now established in some parts of Alberta (particularly those bordering Saskatchewan). It is responsible for major yield loss and grain quality deterioration, and its toxin (DON) causes health hazards in animals and humans. FHB has become one of the five priority diseases in spring wheat in Western Canada. Every year, a large number of candidate cultivars are not approved due to susceptibility to FHB. The DON levels in lines included in registration trials have been increasing, which is alarming for wheat production in western Canada. FHB is now established in Alberta and is a serious concern as it will have major economic consequences to cereal and animal feeding industries. This project will support heightened efforts from the University of Alberta wheat breeding group’s attempt to breed specifically for FHB resistance. They will also conduct research geared towards better understanding the genetic basis of FHB resistance, and to pool genes for resistance into potential varieties. The project will also develop molecular markers that will make breeding high yielding and FHB resistant cultivars easier. Fusarium susceptibility and DON contamination of grain resulting in severe downgrading are issues we can no longer avoid. The University will also be developing scientists to work in the future with Alberta’s farming community through graduate student involvement with this project.

Development of spring wheat (SWS and GP) with higher yield potential for Alberta’s bio-economy
Principle Investigator: Dr. Harpinder Randhawa
Co-funders: ACIDF
The focus of this research project is to develop new spring wheat varieties with improved grain yield, better agronomic performance and good levels of disease resistance.

Soft White and General Purpose classes have higher genetic potential for improvement in grain yield as well as disease resistance. Both these classes of wheat are important for the livestock feed and ethanol industries. Wheat producers will benefit from greater yield stability, improved nutrient use efficiency, and ultimately higher yields. This will increase the competitiveness of wheat production in Alberta and making is profitable crop.

Influence of Genotype, Weather and the Growing Environment, and Crop Management on Gluten Strength and the Sustainability of CWRS as a Premium Wheat Class
Principle Investigators: Harry Sapirstein and Paul Bullock, University of Manitoba
Co-funders: WGRF, SWDC, MWBDC, AAFC
The research will investigate the nature of CWRS wheat gluten strength variation in milling grade samples in relation to genotype, and environmental factors both abiotic (weather) and biotic (FHB and wheat midge), and the influence of select and widely used crop management practices (application of fungicide and insecticide) to mitigate the effects of those biotic factors. This research will solidify and enhance the value of the CWRS wheat class and its value in world markets.

Related: Canterra, AAFC and Alberta Wheat Commission Form $3.4 Million Wheat Breeding Partnership

 

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