Alliance seeks improved wheat photosynthesis, nutrient use
The Canadian Wheat Alliance wants to boost wheat yields by developing new varieties with increased tolerance to drought, heat, cold and diseases such as fusarium head blight and rust.
“By working in an integrated fashion and bringing in additional collaborators and contributors, the alliance is striving to ensure the global competitiveness of Canadian wheat farmers and increase the value at the Canadian farm gate by a cumulative total of $4.5 billion by 2031,” the alliance said in a news release last month.
Another goal is to speed up the development of new wheats.
Stephen Morgan Jones, director general of AAFC’s Prairie/Boreal Plain Ecozone, is especially interested in making wheat more efficient in its use of sunlight and nitrogen.
“Wheat is not particularly efficient at capturing sunlight so there will be a fairly large project developed within the consortium to see if we can increase the efficiency of… the photosynthetic process,” Morgan Jones said in an interview.
Photosynthesis in corn is about twice as efficient, which helps to explain corn’s remarkable rise in yield potential and growing popularity among farmers, he said.
By exploring microbial activity in the root zone, Morgan Jones hopes scientists can discover why some wheat yields more than others even though it’s the same variety, in the same soil, with the same amount of nutrients.
“It’s another area of work that could be very fruitful… in terms of potentially finding microbial communities at the root level and trying to encourage them to give us a lot more use of plant nutrients,” he said.
The coalition will receive $97 million to invest into wheat research over five years, but the coalition is based on an 11-year agreement, Morgan Jones said.
The funding breaks down the following way:
The National Research Council will contribute up to $13 million a year. This is new money for wheat research.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will contribute up to $4 million a year.
“It’s from our existing work in wheat,” Morgan Jones said. “We have taken… approximately a quarter of the work we do that is specifically related to the priority areas for the alliance and we said ‘that’s our contribution.’ It isn’t new money but it is ongoing money that has been approved for wheat improvement, which aligns with the priorities of the alliance.”
The University of Saskatchewan will contribute an estimated $1.4 million in in-kind funding.
The Saskatchewan government will contribute $5 million during the first five years. In addition it announced another $5 million for wheat research not directly connected to the alliance.
Seven of AAFC’s research centres will be involved, including Swift Current, Ottawa and Charlottetown.
“The hard red spring class is one class that will get specific attention through the alliance,” Morgan Jones said. But I should emphasize there is quite a large component in winter wheat as well. That’s being driven to some extent by the University of Saskatchewan and NRC.”