Rumours of their imminent demise were greatly exaggerated.
The Western Feed Grains Development Co-op, which was formed in 2005 with the goal of putting high-yielding, fusariumresistant feed wheat varieties in the hands of farmers, not companies, voted at its annual general meeting last week to continue its efforts.
A funding shortfall has been temporarily resolved, and the co-op plans to apply for registration of two new wheat varieties by spring and begin selling seed, according to WFGD Co-op director Owen McAuley.
“It’s been quite a struggle finding funding for the breeding program, but I’m a little bit more confident than even I was last year,” said McAuley.
Results in test plots last summer showed that WFT varieties 409 and 411 averaged around 70 bushels per acre with better fusarium head blight resistance than the control AC Andrew. More varieties still in the development stages with large-size kernels and bigger stalks promise future improvements and the possibility of carving out market share.
With more seed available, the co-op is set to move on to the next level, which is supplying members with reliable, high-quality varieties that they can grow for feeding livestock or producing ethanol instead of relying on unpredictable supplies of downgraded or weather-damaged milling wheat.
Plant breeder Vinesh Verma left the program last fall, and amid uncertain funding, the co-op was hesitant about hiring on another full-time plant breeder.
In the meantime, the research has continued with the help of a handful of scientists at Ag-Quest’s four locations in Western Canada. Todd Reid, based at Taber, Alberta, is doing the critical work of crossing lines and directing the work of technicians in other provinces.
Some had thought that the end of kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) as a screening requirement for new wheat registrations, and the addition of the new General Purpose wheat class, would eliminate the need for the co-op’s plans for members-only trade in feed wheat.
But despite those regulatory changes, the main reason for the co-op’s existence hasn’t changed, said director David Rourke.
“One of our objectives was to get these kinds of wheats into the market so we could continue to be low-cost producers on a sustainable nature for ethanol and livestock feed, and not rely on cheap U. S. corn or frozen Saskatchewan wheat,” he said.
The turnout at the recent plot tour at the Minto site was down from past years, noted Rourke, who said that it could be the result of sagging fortunes in the livestock industry.
Last year’s spike in grain prices resulted in significant setbacks for those sectors, but the possibility of a return to the “normal” commodity cycle could see both making a comeback as a means to soak up surplus grain.
“It’s always hard to tell. But we started this three or four years ago when grain prices were low. We didn’t start it when grain prices were high. It probably looks worse right now than it will ever look,” said Rourke.
“Someone pointed out that if they did away with ethanol, that would increase the supply of corn on the market by four billion bushels almost overnight. But one of the reasons we got involved with ethanol was to get rid of those four billion bushels of grain.” [email protected]