More than a century after its development, triticale may be poised to become an overnight sensation.
A combination of new varieties and new uses in both the ethanol and manufacturing industries is boosting interest in the cross of rye and wheat, says Franois Eudes, a plant biotechnology research scientist at the Lethbridge Research Centre.
Eudes was extolling the virtues of triticale at the recent Ag Expo in Lethbridge, and showing off small pieces of plastic and foam that can be made into a range of household products such as hot cups and disposable plates.
A consortium of 60 scientists in 12 public institutions, aided by some private-sector contribution, has been working to develop the crop, said Eudes. Although its potential has yet to be gauged, that work is boosting the crop’s profile, he said.
Triticale pioneers hoped to produce a crop which would boast the best features of wheat and rye. Rye is more winter hardy in dry conditions, for instance, while wheat is grown more for quality than yield. Originally developed in Scotland in the 1870s, it was only a century later that the first commercial triticale varieties appeared in Canada. The first varieties were late maturing and frequently had low test weights. Acreage, principally in Alberta, has increased with the introduction of improved varieties in the last few decades, but Canada only accounts for a small percentage of global production.
More varieties coming
Two standard triticale varieties are available – Ultima was developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Pronghorn by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
Further improvements are on the horizon, said Eudes. Agriculture Canada has a couple of varieties in development with higher yields than either rye or wheat, and has the first variety with resistance to ergot. The Swift Current Research Centre has one close with the highest yield potential yet.
While yield is critical, Eudes said scientists are also working to increase the starch content of triticale, the most important component in making ethanol, foams and plastics.
Only soft white spring wheat, grown on a limited irrigated acreage in southern Alberta for the cookie flour industry, has such high starch levels. Both have about 60 per cent starch with about 11 per cent protein. (Corn is 72 per cent starch but has only seven per cent protein.)
Another factor that could boost interest in triticale is its ability to produce good yields even when grown on less-than-ideal soils. This would also appeal to consumers concerned about using food to produce fuels and industrial products.
Environmentalists should appreciate triticale because it requires fewer crop production inputs compared to wheat, said Eudes.
The cereal biotechnologist said he’s anxious to see how farmers respond to the renewed potential for triticale.
“How the farm community is going to move is uncertain,” he said.
In addition to supplying the processing industry, there may also be opportunities for farmers to become shareholders in small-scale processing plants in rural Canada, he said.