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High-Yielding Wheat Remains Elusive

“Canada’s grain quality reputation is being put at risk, we’re spending a crapload on testing and it’s costing farmers money. Someone should be held accountable.”

– EARL GEDDES

Kernel visual distinguishability was pushed into an early grave last August to clear the way for new developments in high-yielding wheat suitable for livestock feed and ethanol.

So where are the high-yielding wheats farmers were told plant breeders had on the shelf ready to release when KVD was no longer a prerequisite to registration?

That’s what some are asking, including Earl Geddes, the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) vice-president of farmer service, after learning none of the five new wheats recently recommended for registration under the Canada Western General Purpose (CWGP) class yield better than the check varieties.

“The dream that we could just pull things off the shelves and put them in the co-op (trial) and have high-yield potential was just that – a dream,” Curtis Pozniak, a plant breeder with the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre told the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (WRT) here Feb. 26.

Geddes is not surprised. In an interview last week Geddes said he never believed the claims by some plant breeders and industry leaders that high-yielding genetics suitable for livestock feed and ethanol would quickly enter the marketplace once KVD was out of the way.

What was arguably a false promise contributed to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s sudden order last year to kill KVD despite an industry consensus to phase it out by 2010 if an effective and affordable driveway test could be found to replace it.

“Canada’s grain quality reputation is being put at risk, we’re spending a crapload on testing and it’s costing farmers money,” Geddes said. “Someone should be held accountable.”

KVD was a cheap and effective means of segregating Prairie wheats, by class, from the elevator to ship, ensuring quality control. Now farmers must declare they are delivering the right wheat to the right class and face huge penalties if they misrepresent a delivery, even if unintentionally.

Pozniak, who is also the CWGP co-op trials co-ordinator, said breeders are working to boost yields in the CWGP class, but it will take time and increases will be incremental.

Geddes agrees eventually the elimination of KVD might make it easier to develop higher-yielding wheats. Having no end-use quality standards in the CWGP class will probably help more than ending KVD. It’s often a failure to meet milling standards that sees a new wheat rejected.

At last year’s WRT meeting in Winnipeg Geddes moved a resolution to consider making it a prerequisite that new wheats destined for the CWGP class yield at least 10 per cent better than the checks.

“We are making a mockery of our process with farmers if we’re registering varieties in the GP (general purpose) class that aren’t greater in yield than what we can deliver through a milling-quality wheat,” he said.

The resolution, which passed, was later ruled out of order by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which registers new crop varieties. Regulations only require new varieties to be “equal to” not “better than,” registered varieties.

University of Manitoba plant breeder Anita Brlé-Babel says yield is just one factor. Days to maturity and disease resistance are important too.

“I would be very upset if people only looked at yield as the main criteria for the class…,” she said.

Brlé-Babel said some CWGP checks, like AC Andrew and Hoffman, are already high yielding and therefore “inappropriate.”

Bill Chapman, Alberta Agriculture’s provincial agronomist for cereals, argued farmers need access to new wheats that can replace imported American corn.

“We’re missing out on it,” he said, referring to livestock and ethanol markets. “Let’s let the farmer decide.”

Of the 25 wheats put forward for registration this year nine were for the CWGP class. Of those, five were recommended for registration, two were withdrawn because of errors in the way the data was presented and two were rejected.

The rejected varieties were both from the United Kingdom and submitted by Canterra Seeds. GP014 (Chablis) and GP015 (Ashby) had low test weight and poor disease resistance.

The following were recommended for registration for the CWGP class:

DH99-55-2 is a Soft Red Winter developed by Brian Fowler at the Crop Development Centre. It has low protein and yields similar to CDC Falcon, a non-select milling-quality winter wheat.

DH99W19H*16 is a winter wheat developed by Anita Brlé-Babel of the University of Manitoba. It’s short strawed and yields 10 per cent better than CDC Falcon.

DH00W31N*34 is another winter wheat from Brlé-Babel. It yields better than CDC Falcon. It’s strong strawed and resistant to leaf rust but is not as short as DH99W19H*16 and therefore better suited to Saskatchewan.

GP003 is a Canada Prairie Spring (white) wheat developed by Curtis Pozniak of the Crop Development Centre. It yields as well as the checks, including AC Andrew, but is earlier maturing. Its susceptibility to fusarium head blight (FHB) makes it unsuitable for Manitoba.

GP010 is a spring wheat developed by Ron DePauw of Agriculture and Agri-Food’s Swift Current Research Station. It is strong strawed and earlier maturing than AC Andrew, but is susceptible to FHB.

There are currently three wheats already in the CWGP class– Accipiter, CDC Ptarmigan and Peregrine. [email protected]

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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