Wheat School: Working current concerns into long-term breeding goals


Living in a world where everything from entertainment and fixes to problems are seemingly instantaneous, wheat breeding remains outside of these parameters, taking upwards of 10 years to have a concept come to fruition.

This balance between what we know now and what may be needed in the future is what wheat breeders, like Richard Cuthbert with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, contemplate on a daily basis.

However, knowing what we know now in the way of challenges, including potential weather extremes, increased environmental regulations, and increased need for food supply, breeders are able to put pen to paper and come up with wheat varieties that are aimed at mitigating future challenges.

“You need almost a crystal ball to be able to guess what’s going to be needed from 10 years from now. The crosses we make today, in 2022, will be coming into the market in 2030 to 2032. So you need to anticipate what’s going to be needed then. So that that’s threats of pests, threats of disease, and what changes to end-use marketing could happen,” explains Cuthbert. “The fortunate thing is, we try to do this continually. We’re doing the crossing process every year. We’re doing early generation development every year. And we’re running advanced and registration tests every year. So we anticipate that we have what’s needed in the pipeline to respond to those challenges before they’re really known.”

Some of the main diseases they are working on include creating resistance to fusarium head blight and stripe rust.

There are many factors to take into consideration, most of which stem from the wants and needs of three categories.

  1. Producers
  2. Consumers and retailers
  3. Environmental regulations and considerations

From a producer standpoint, Cuthbert says yield and disease are the most prominent concerns that they’re looking at. This however, also ties into other categories as well,  as environmental regulations look to monitor nitrogen usage, which would or could have a direct impact on a farmer’s yield.

“We are hearing things like reduce nitrogen use across the Prairies, so we’re looking for varieties for a range of environments, whether you’re more input intensive, or whether you’re at a lower rate of nitrogen, you’ll still be able to meet the green protein and have yields that are economically viable for your operation,” shares Cuthbert.

Other considerations are extreme weather as we have seen a vast difference of moisture levels across western Canada this year, Cuthbert says they are working on varieties that can be viable in either very dry or very wet conditions.

Although a lot of headway can be made through Cuthbert’s and other breeders’ work, he says with the complexity of plant breeding, gene editing may start to make its way into the industry to provide a simple fix to a singular issue.

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