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WGRF backs new organic wheat breeding project

March 15, 2006

Boosting the performance of wheat varieties grown under organic production is the focus of a new three-year research project supported by Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF).

The project will concentrate on the development of infrastructure for breeding efforts geared toward improving traits in Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat for organic management systems and low-input environments. The project is a joint effort between the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta wheat breeding programs.

Both Universities have identified farm sites low in phosphorous (P), a common deficiency on organic farms of the Prairie provinces. The University of Alberta research farm also has 11 acres of organic land in the black soil zone, which will be used for the project. This site is also nutrient deficient with an elevated weed profile.

"Fertility and competition will be the major focus of the research work," says Dr. Dean Spaner, wheat breeder at the University of Alberta. "The goal of the three-year initial program will be to begin a process to identify material that might hold promise for further breeding and development of new lines."

Information on the new organic breeding project is featured in the March edition of Western Grains Research Magazine, now on the WGRF Web site, www.westerngrains.com. Western Canadian wheat and barley growers are major investors in breeding research through the Wheat and Barley Check-off Funds, administered by WGRF. The Research Magazine offers "Ideas and issues for farmer research investors."

Due to the initial short-term nature of the project, no new lines are expected over the three-year timeframe, says Spaner. But the material developed will pave the way for future varieties with advantages for organic growers.

Researchers will evaluate a range of material, including currently registered varieties. Western Canadian breeding material and material from CIMMYT - the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre - will also be evaluated where possible.

"By specifically choosing low nutrient status soils as a selection screen, the research will be targeting conventional producers at the same time, thereby benefiting both communities," says Spaner. "This approach also has strong potential to result in a detailed exploration of the genetic and physiological mechanisms of resistance to low nutrient status in wheat."

This project was proposed and accepted in conjunction with University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan wheat breeding scientists and Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada. WGRF funding support will be derived from the Wheat Check-off Fund.

"WGRF is a farmer organization that represents all types of Prairie producers, including organic producers," says Lanette Kuchenski, WGRF Executive Director. "As such, we welcome the increasing opportunity for organic production across Western Canada."

WGRF has long supported crop breeding efforts and research projects that benefit organic and lower input production, including an increasing number of efforts in recent years. Wheat Check-off Funds have supported breeding efforts toward organic needs such as disease and pest resistance, quality tailoring for niche markets and performance traits for low input production.

"This new project will go a long way toward increasing the opportunity for WGRF-funded breeding programs to create value for organic producers," says Kuchenski.

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source: Western Grains Research Foundation

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