Winter Cereals Manitoba (WCM) has money in the bank and the farmer-funded organization knows exactly where it’s going: research.
Two projects are already planned, but WCM chair and Birtle-area farmer Garth Butcher told the organization’s annual meeting here March 10 he wants to hear members’ priorities.
WCM collected 50 cents a tonne from around 2,000 Manitoba farmers on the sale of their winter wheat in 2009. Twenty or so of them attended the annual meeting.
“We need improved varieties, more resistant to disease, particularly fusarium head blight,” Butcher wrote in his message to members. “These varieties need very good winter hardiness, early maturity, high yield and in higher-rainfall areas they must resist lodging. We are providing financing to breeding programs to this end.”
In addition to setting research priorities for WCM, Butcher said the organization now has a seat at the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) and can influence how it funds research, including the $68 million the railways remitted after overcharging western Canadian farmers for hauling grain.
Most of that money will likely be added to the WGRF’s endowment fund, Butcher said. The interest is spent on research. One possibility for the money is increasing research into mitigating fusarium head blight, Butcher said.
It was once thought winter wheat was less susceptible to
REFUNDS LIMITED: Winter Cereals Canada’s executive director Jake
Davidson says few Manitoba winter wheat farmers have requested that their checkoff be refunded because they recognize it’s necessary to invest in research.
the fungus disease because it flowers early in the season when the warm and moist conditions suited to head blight infection are less common. But some years winter wheat is severely infected.
WCM is wrestling with investing in basic research or independent, third-party testing to verify the efficacy of certain inputs and techniques, said McGregor-area farmer and WCM director Curtis Sims.
Independent extension information is harder to get these days, added Jake Davidson, Winter Cereals Canada’s executive director.
“Should we be getting you some independent information that isn’t driven by the guy getting a bonus at the end of the year depending on how many jugs (of pesticide) that he sells?” he asked. “It’s not that we don’t trust the chemical companies, but does every trial that doesn’t work get reported?”
Finding earlier-maturing winter wheats faster is the focus of one of WCM’s research projects. Lethbridgebased, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada winter wheat breeder Rob Graf is leading it. He’ll run tests across the West in collaboration with other winter wheat breeders, Davidson said.
WCM and its counterpart the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission (SWCDC), will each contribute $50,000 a year.
“It’s going right down to single-row testing,” Davidson said. “New winter wheats, especially in the higher classes, have been few and far between. There were two new ones this year, but it’s been essentially 10 years since there’s been anything and we’ve got to speed that up.”
The second project, led by Brian Beres, also based at Agriculture Canada’s Lethbridge station, focuses on improving winter wheat agronomy. Everything from integrated pest management and fertilizer placement to seed treatments and seeding techniques will be investigated, Davidson said.
Beres told the meeting agronomic practices can have a much bigger effect on protein content in winter wheat than most people know. Winter wheat, which usually outyields spring wheat, often has lower protein levels. Researchers tend to try to fix the problem through plant breeding, but how the crop is grown can also affect protein, Beres said.
WCM and SWCDC will each contribute $25,000 a year to the project for three years. Ducks Unlimited Canada is also contributing.
A request for matching funding from Agriculture has been made.
WCM has waited until it has the money in the bank before investing in research. That way if winter wheat acres, and therefore checkoff revenue decline, as happened last fall due to a late harvest, it won’t affect the work.
“You can’t tell a researcher halfway or a third of the way into a project that you don’t have any money,” Davidson said. “Our goal is sustainability.”
CWM has also contributed money to the Manitoba Crop Evaluation Trials to test winter wheats, the Crop Diagnostic School and purchased soil temperature monitors.
In 2009, WCM’s first full year with checkoff, $250,129 in levies were collected and $4,800 refunded to farmers who requested it.
“We have an extremely low refund rate,” Davidson said.
“Winter wheat producers realize nothing is going to happen unless we kick-start it.”
One company is refusing to collect the checkoff. Even some large hog farmers are remitting it, Davidson said.
Winter Cereals Canada, which handles the administration for WCM and the SWCDC, is talking to Alberta winter cereal growers about joining. There’s even interest from the Ontario Grain Growers, Davidson said.