Industry to collaborate on wheat research

Program details coming | Sask. gov’t supports project to boost wheat production in the province

The National Research Council will soon announce details of a multi-faceted research initiative aimed at boosting wheat production and profitability in Canada.

The Canadian Wheat Flagship Strategic Alliance is expected to involve plant scientists from the NRC, the University of Saskatchewan and Agriculture Canada.

Details of the program have not been released, but sources at the NRC confirmed last week that a formal announcement is likely to come in the next two to three months.

NRC spokesperson Patrick Bookhout confirmed that the research council is working with Agriculture Canada and the U of S on developing a wheat program.

“It will focus on research and genomics … (biotic) and abiotic stresses, cell technologies, plant development and beneficial wheat microbe interactions,” Bookhout said.

“However, at the time the program … hasn’t fully been implemented. It’s still in the works … so at this time, we can’t really give too many details.”

The Saskatchewan government announced last February that it would provide an additional $10 million over the next five years to support new wheat research projects in the province. It has already announced plans to contribute $5 million over five years to the strategic alliance initiative.

The remaining funds will be channeled through the province’s Agricultural Development Fund and will be used to promote collaborative wheat breeding partnerships that involve publicly funded research institutions and private sector life science companies.

Last year, the province issued a special call for private sector companies to partner with public sector researchers in projects that would speed the development of wheat varieties and boost wheat production in the province.

Eight proposals were submitted.

At least two have been approved for funding, although the province has yet to announce which companies will be involved and how much public funding each project will receive.

Private partners must contribute 50 percent of total project costs to qualify for ADF funding as a public-private partnership.

It is widely expected that private-public research partnerships will play an increasingly important role in the development and commercialization of new wheat varieties in Saskatchewan.

In his address to the Saskatchewan Agriculture Wheat Summit last February, Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall said ADF funding would be used to leverage research investments from private sector companies.

“We need to use the latest biotechnology advances so plants can make better and quicker use of fertilizers, making them less costly to grow and easier on the environment and, perhaps most importantly, we need to use this funding to leverage research investments … in wheat improvement from private companies,” Wall said. “The best way we think to ensure investment is to build partnerships, to create a welcoming environment for (life science companies) … to continue to invest.”

The Saskatchewan government also commissioned a report last year to assess the benefits of current agricultural research funding programs in the province.

KPMG was chosen to prepare the report at a cost of $171,000.

Officials with Saskatchewan Agriculture’s research branch said the purpose of the report was to “determine the economic benefits to Saskatchewan from its investments in those areas (the SRP and ADF) and to establish the policy rationale that would underpin public sector intervention in support of agricultural research and development.”

The province’s current SRP agreements — one with the U of S and one with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute — are due to expire at the end of March.

Those agreements distribute $3 million annually in core research funding among 14 SRP chairs involved in crop and livestock research at the U of S and PAMI’s Western Beef Development Centre.

Sources in the provincial government said last week that discussions regarding the continuation of SRP funding beyond March 31 are ongoing.

The KPMG report, which was initially scheduled for completion last fall, has yet to be delivered.

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