Meeting local demand
By Trudy Kelly Forsythe
Research from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is destined to help producers in Eastern Canada produce high quality, hard red winter wheat suitable for bread production or for blending with other wheat varieties, such as western hard red spring wheat, to supply local milling companies.
“Local producers are challenged to access this market due to western production of hard wheat even though, at times, local mills have trouble accessing enough hard wheat for their operations,” says Gavin Humphreys, a research scientist with AAFC’s winter wheat breeding and genetics program, who is building on research conducted by Radhey Pandeya from 1992 to 2012 and Judith Frégeau-Ried from 2012 to 2014.
Frégeau-Ried submitted the original hard red winter wheat research proposal to the Canadian Wheat Breeding Research Cluster because it was discerned that while there was adequate research and breeding in soft winter wheat, there was a need for breeding in hard red winter wheat.
“AAFC was well placed to take on this activity because there is an active hard red winter wheat program in Western Canada from which we have sourced some of our initial germplasm and parents for crossing,” Humphreys says. “And the size of eastern hard red winter wheat production is presently too small for private plant breeding companies to invest very much, if at all, in the breeding of hard red winter wheat.
“For example, Dow AgroSciences has recently mothballed their breeding efforts in hard red winter wheat for Ontario.”
The current program led by Humphreys is supported through the wheat cluster with funding from Grain Farmers of Ontario, Western Grains Research Foundation and AAFC. It involves three components: breeding, disease screening and lab work.
The winter wheat breeding program focuses on hard red winter wheat although, Humphreys says, there is some work on soft red winter because it is the most important class of winter wheat grown in Eastern Canada. He runs a modified pedigreed program with all facets of a standard wheat breeding program including crosses, early generation populations, later generation yield testing, and registration testing and breeder seed production.
The researchers conduct one of the largest publicly funded Fusarium head blight (FHB) screening nurseries for winter cereals in Canada at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre (ECORC). There, the nursery screens material for winter wheat breeders in Lethbridge, Alta.; Winnipeg, Man.; all Ontario winter wheat breeders through the OCCC Winter Wheat Performance and Orthogonal trials and the AAFC Ottawa program.
“In addition to the field screening, in collaboration with Dr. Barbara Blackwell at ECORC, we can screen promising new winter wheat lines for their mycotoxin levels,” Humphreys says. “It is critical that we know not only the Fusarium head blight disease symptom but also the mycotoxin levels because lines with low Fusarium head blight symptoms can sometimes still have high mycotoxin.
“Nowadays, producers are being graded by both Fusarium damaged kernels and mycotoxin levels in their harvested grain,” he continues. “Therefore, new varieties need not only to have low Fusarium head blight symptoms to protect the yield but the harvest grain must be low in Fusariun damaged kernels as well as mycotoxin to protect the grade.”
Within the laboratory component, the researchers run a wheat, doubled haploid program which produces genetically pure lines skipping over the traditional eight to 10 generations of self-pollination. Last winter, in Humphreys’ first winter wheat double haploid production season, they generated over 800 winter wheat, doubled haploid breeding lines.
“This resource will be used in concert with molecular markers in the winter wheat breeding program to screen parents and doubled haploid lines for molecular markers linked to desirable traits such as plant height, leaf rust, stem rust and powdery mildew resistance,” Humphreys says. “In this we can produce double haploid populations that are pre-selected for the desired traits.”
Humphreys says the research is really just getting started because the hard red winter wheat program is new at ECORC.
In addition to FHB resistance, which the researchers can select in their FHB screening nursery, Humphreys’ program will look to develop varieties with both high grain yield and high harvest index through the development of shorter strawed varieties.
This research will have benefits over supplying the local milling companies with high quality winter wheat. Winter wheat is also an important component in crop rotation, but Humphreys says producers are challenged due to the lower yields and value of wheat compared to soybeans or corn.