After threatening to fold last year, the Western Feed Grains Development Co-op is back on a firm footing.
With $275,000 in funding from the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council (MRAC), the 90-member co-op has been able to resolve its funding crunch and hire a new plant breeder in order to continue its efforts to develop member-owned varieties of high-yielding, fusarium-resistant feed wheat.
Attempts to register two new cultivars, 409 and 411, failed last year, but the co-op’s resident David Rourke is confident that success is around the corner, with even better varieties such as the up-and-comers 514 and 517 growing in plots around the country this summer.
“We’ve stepped up the number of lines from 10,000 to more like 100,000, and we’ve got 10 times more area in plots than we had last year,” said Rourke, on the sidelines of the co-op’s annual summer plot tour last week.
The registration process is “arbitrary” in nature, and seems to depend on the mood of those at the table, he added, noting that on land well fertilized with hog manure, the co-op’s 409 variety showed surprising durability prior to harvesting and yielded 92 bushels to the acre on his best quarter.
“It’s a tough, short variety that doesn’t seem to shell. It’s got good leaf and rust resistance. Last fall it just stood there waiting for us to combine,” he said, adding that the grain rated “a little better” than AC Barrie in terms of fusarium resistance.
But even without registration, members of the co-op already have 20,000 acres of seed and grain production underway. The co-op, which was formed in 2005 prior to the creation of the general purpose wheat class, was originally designed to serve as a vehicle for members-only trade in unregistered varieties outside the grain-handling system.
“Because of the system we have, where the members own their own germplasm, if they see value in it, we can grow it,” said Rourke. “It would be nice if it was registered, but it’s not that big of a deal.”
The co-op’s new plant breeder Sajjad Rao, is also working on crosses incorporating UG99 stem rust-resistant traits derived from a Canadian variety known as Cadillac.
Trouble in the hog industry hasn’t affected interest in domestic solutions for feed grains, said Rourke.
Talk of a worldwide wheat shortage a few years ago, and higher prices for Hard Red Spring wheat, saw more farmers putting milling-quality wheat in the ground. But that cycle may have run its course, and in recent months there have been reports that the shortage has turned into a surplus.
If the trend continues, it may make feed grains more appealing. In the meantime, the co-op’s breeding program is aiming for a 40 per cent yield advantage. So far, the co-op’s cultivars are about 18 per cent above HRSW, said Rourke.
“I think that by this winter, the price differential may disappear by a little bit,” he added. [email protected]