Farmers, Ottawa put $25.2 million over five years into national wheat research program

Canadian wheat research is getting a boost thanks to $25.2 million in farmer and federal government investment over the next five years.

“The primary output will be new varieties, however, there will be other projects that look at breeding tools to support varieties,” said Garth Patterson, executive director of the farmer-funded Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF). “This is all non-GMO-type research.”

The federal government is contributing $12.5 million, or about half the funding, in the new wheat science cluster through the federal-provincial Growing Forward 2 agreement.

The WGRF, Alberta Wheat Commission and Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance, representing wheat growers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, are investing $9.6 million, $1.3 million and $1.7 million, respectively. Most of the money will be collected from farmers through checkoffs.

“The take-home message is this is truly a national cluster,” Patterson said. “It goes from Atlantic Canada right through to the B.C. Peace area. It’s bigger than the last cluster under Growing Forward 1.”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced the program Nov. 7 in Red Deer during Agri-Trade 2013’s first annual All Crops Breakfast and Market Outlook.

The new program will fund 50 research projects at six different public institutions — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the universities of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Guelph (Ridgetown campus) and CEROM in Quebec, Patterson said.

Wheat researchers are excited, partly because the new program provides stability, he said.

“We all know variety development is a continuum,” Patterson said.

“That’s really important. It’s not stop and start. There has been continuous work over the decades and this helps it continue and provides stability.

He said the cluster approach fosters more co-ordination between researchers instead of individual silos. “That’s one of the requirements of the program — that we work together.”

Goals include developing new wheats resistant to insects such as the wheat midge and diseases such as fusarium head blight.

“We’re seeing increasing interest in the mid-quality wheats but there’s still lots of activity in the high-quality wheats,” Patterson said.

This latest funding is in addition to the $97 million Canadian Wheat Alliance research program announced in May. The federal government is contributing $85 million to that initiative through the National Research Council and AAFC in co-operation with the Saskatchewan government and University of Saskatchewan. The goal is boosting wheat yields.

In addition, the WGRF still has core wheat-breeding agreements with AAFC and the University of Saskatchewan.

“And in addition to this commitment through 2014 we’re going to be looking through new commitments to the western universities and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,” Patterson said. “So this isn’t the end of our investment either.”

Meanwhile, several private seed companies have said they are investing more into wheat research.

Canada doesn’t invest as much in wheat research as the United States or Australia. But there appears to be a recognition that Canada must invest more, Patterson said.

Outsiders say Canada has done well with the limited research resources it has, said Don Dewar, a Dauphin farmer and interim chair of the proposed new Manitoba Wheat and Barley Association.

“Australia is spending more than double what we are (on wheat research),” said Dewar, who also represents the Keystone Agricultural Producers on the WGRF board. “To get there the farmers will have to spend more, and I think in part, that’s what the (wheat) commissions intend to do.”

Once Manitoba’s new wheat association is established and has a checkoff it will be invited to contribute to the new wheat research cluster, Patterson said. Saskatchewan’s new wheat commission will also be invited to contribute, he said.

In the meantime, Manitoba and Saskatchewan farmers are contributing to wheat research through a temporary checkoff set up by the federal government after ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly. That checkoff ends in 2017, but it’s expected that by then provincial wheat associations will collect checkoffs to fund research.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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