Wheat: part of our past, key to our future

Wheat has been getting a lot of media coverage these days, and rightly so. Woven into the fabric of our nation’s history, the crop generates $6 billion in export sales and $6 billion in farm-gate receipts.

As part of a comprehensive grain modernization agenda, the federal government has been creating the conditions to unlock wheat’s potential through marketing freedom, reforms to the Canadian Grain Commission and variety registration.

As well, it recently introduced Bill C-18, which will bring plant breeders’ rights legislation in line with that of our competitors and foster increased innovation in the industry.

There’s a perception I’ve seen in the media that our commitment to wheat innovation is slipping. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Government remains by far the biggest player in wheat research, contributing 75 percent of financial and human resources.

Agriculture Canada’s commitment to wheat breeding research remains strong while it brings in involvement and investment from other partners.

Under Growing Forward 2, we’ve increased our investment in the wheat research cluster from $8 million to $12 million for a total of $25 million with industry investment.

Led by industry, the wheat cluster will develop varieties in all classes that have higher yield and quality so that growers can capture premium value on markets both at home and around the world.

Another excellent collaborative initiative is the $97 million Canadian Wheat Strategic Alliance, which brings together the National Research Council, Agriculture Canada, the University of Saskatchewan and the province of Saskatchewan.

Ensuring that farmers continue to have the latest tools at their disposal will take greater emphasis on public-private collaboration and value chain partnerships.

Our competitors are well on their way; we need to get out of the gate.

The collaborative approach allows the public and private sectors to play to their strengths, with the private sector focusing on near-market trait and variety development, testing, evaluation and accelerated variety release.

Agriculture Canada will continue to do variety research and develop germplasm, focusing on long-term research with broader applicability for the sector in areas such as disease and pest resistance.

A good example is the recent discovery by our scientists of three genes resistant to Ug99, a potentially devastating wheat stem rust.

Discoveries coming out of a $13 million investment boost in 2009 will protect farmers’ livelihoods and food security, and an additional $1.26 million under Growing Forward 2 will build on this work.

A revitalized wheat industry, as part of government’s overall modernization of the Canadian grain sector, will yield a rich harvest for Canada’s economy and global food security.

It will help our industry meet global demand, it will make wheat more than just a rotational crop, it will secure long-term sustainability of the sector and it will propel jobs and growth through new value-added investments.

Wheat is an integral part of our past, and it will help drive a bright future for Canadian agriculture.

Stephen Morgan Jones is director general prairie/boreal plain ecozone, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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