New funding boosts U of M wheat research

The Canadian Wheat Research Coalition, the Western Grain Research Foundation and the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission have committed $3.5 million to the University of Manitoba over three years. | Screencap via wheatresearch.ca

Canadian Wheat Research Coalition, Western Grain Research Foundation and 
Sask. Winter Cereals Development Commission commit $3.5 million over three years

A collection of groups that provide producer funding to wheat research activities in Western Canada have signed a new core wheat breeding agreement with the University of Manitoba.

The Canadian Wheat Research Coalition, the Western Grain Research Foundation and the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission have committed $3.5 million to the University of Manitoba over three years.

The agreement will ensure the continuation of a fusarium head blight nursery program at the university and will also provide support to the university’s winter wheat breeding program.

The deal was announced in a joint news release dated Aug. 31.

“This foundational funding of (the university’s) wheat breeding program ensures the continued evaluation of FHB resistance of breeding lines from across the Prairies,” said Curt McCartney, who will lead the U of M wheat breeding program following the retirement of Anita Brulé-Babel later this year.

“Dr. Brulé-Babel’s research has been critically important for developing varieties with improved FHB resistance and has provided excellent training for graduate students,” McCartney said.

“With this new agreement, I plan to build upon her successes through the development and implementation of genomics-assisted breeding techniques.”

The U of M’s fusarium nursery evaluates new wheat lines for resistance to fusarium graminearum, the most common cause of fusarium head blight in western Canadian cereal crops.

The U of M nursery is one of a handful of FHB screening facilities in Canada and is used by wheat breeders across Western Canada hoping to develop new wheat varieties with improved resistance.

The university’s winter wheat breeding program will continue to focus on developing new field-ready winter wheat varieties with improved quality characteristics.

The new agreement, which represents an increase of $1.6 million over the previous core breeding agreement, also includes funding to train U of M students as future scientists in wheat research.

“FHB is a growing concern across the Prairies as it not only compromises yield, but also end-use quality and food safety,” said CWRC chair Fred Greig.

“As a farmer, my best line of defence starts at variety selection, so having access to FHB resistant wheat varieties is key for my farming operation.”

Known for her contributions to FHB research, Brulé-Babel is planning to retire in December after a long career at the U of M.

Her replacement, McCartney, was a research scientist at Agriculture Canada in Morden, Man., where he focused on cereal genetics targeting resistance to FHB, leaf rust, stem rust, and orange wheat blossom midge.

The U of M funding agreement is the CWRC’s fourth and final core funding agreement with public wheat breeding programs in Western Canada.

Previously announced agreements include a $22.6 million deal with Agriculture Canada, a $9.6 million agreement with the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, and a $2 million agreement with the University of Alberta.

In recognition of the winter wheat and FHB focus of the U of M program, WGRF and SWCDC will provide $935,000 and $50,000, respectively, over the term of the agreement.“The producer-funded support from the CWRC, WGRF and SWCDC will be critical for supporting a strong program of winter wheat breeding and FHB resistance research at the University of Manitoba,” said Martin Scanlon, dean of the university’s faculty of agricultural and food sciences.

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