New alliance to focus wheat research in Saskatoon

The federal government has joined with the Saskatchewan government and University of Saskatchewan to form a new Canadian Wheat Alliance, dedicated to improving yields and profitability of wheat.

“The Canadian Wheat Alliance will improve the quality of Canadian wheat, and enhance Canada’s competitive position in the growing world market,” said federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a release Thursday.

“The benefits of this alliance will flow throughout the entire value chain, strengthening our producers’ bottom lines and our overall economy.”

The Canadian Wheat Alliance will invest approximately $97 million over five years into genetic improvements as well as more efficient fertilizer use.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association welcomed the announcement. “We do need more research to reduce yield losses due to environmental factors,” said president Levi Wood. “This funding will help develop new wheat varieties better able to withstand drought, frost and disease.”

The association commended the federal government, province and university for their leadership and commitment to research on behalf of wheat farmers.

The Grain Growers of Canada was also pleased. “At the national Grains Roundtable recently, we created a work plan to identify overlaps and gaps in research between levels of governments, agencies of governments and the academic world,” said Richard Phillips, executive director.

“That roadmap will help ensure we minimize duplication and also identify areas where more work is needed, to maximize the use of our public resources.

“We can use this model as a starting point to also leverage producer and private investments to put wheat innovation on a fast track in Canada,” said Phillips. “Although we have not been happy with some research cutbacks, making more efficient use of the resources and infrastructure like greenhouses and laboratories may mean as much or more progress at the end of the day.”

The alliance combines resources from the National Research Council of Canada and AAFC with a $5 million contribution from the Saskatchewan government that will be used to support CWA activities and leverage contributions from other stakeholders, part of a $10 million commitment the province is making to wheat research over the next five years.

The University of Saskatchewan is contributing $1.4 million per year through in-kind contributions.

“With renowned plant breeding expertise available in areas such as our Crop Development Centre, the University of Saskatchewan is a recognized leader in agricultural and food production research,” said Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac, University of Saskatchewan president.

“Through this alliance, we will continue to work with our partners to further strengthen the knowledge and tools needed to improve wheat, a crop that brings nearly $4 billion annually to the farm gate in Canada.”

“Integrated fashion”

The federal government announced May 7 it is refocusing the NRC. It says the new structure would bridge the gap between knowledge and discoveries, and industrial innovation.

“With the world’s population expected to exceed nine billion by 2050, there is an increased demand for food, which places a responsibility on, and creates an opportunity for, the Canadian agriculture and food sector,” the release says.

The alliance is meant to develop wheat varieties that are more resistant to disease; have increased tolerance to drought, heat and cold stresses; require less nitrogen fertilizer; and produce increased yields.

“By working in an integrated fashion, and bringing in additional collaborators and contributors, the Alliance is striving to ensure the global competitiveness of Canadian wheat farmers and increase the value at the Canadian farm gate by a cumulative total of $4.5 billion by 2031.”

The alliance says climate change is expected to pressure agricultural production Canada as models predict Western Canada will become drier and its winters less severe — which means pests may overwinter and attack crops earlier in the growing season.

As well, the rate of world wheat trade, one of the most important cereal grains, is expected to grow at a much faster rate than overall consumption, doubling to 240 million tons or more by 2050.

“Canada, as one of the world’s primary wheat exporters, will have to significantly increase production over the next four decades to take advantage of those global demands.”

— Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator at Carman, Man.

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