Minogue: Crops research focused on Prairie competitiveness

Researchers are co-operating to create a brighter future for Prairie agriculture.

Agronomists and scientists from Saskatchewan Agriculture, the Wheatland Conservation Area, the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF), the Canola Council of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC’s) Semi-Arid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre (SPARC) came together here July 12 to showcase their in-field research work.

Several long-term projects are underway that are expected to help Prairie farmers keep their competitive edge in the short term and the long term.

IHARF manager Chris Holzapfel demonstrated a multi-site research project designed to determine which hybrid canola types are best suited to straight combining. This work could save many canola growers from having to swath — lowering machinery and field costs and saving time.

AAFC durum wheat researcher Danny Singh explained the wheat breeding program in place at SPARC. They have already registered the first solid stem durum in Canada, currently known as DT818. This variety has been bred to be sawfly-resistant.

"We’re excited to see if that helps some of the people who have wheat stem sawfly," Singh says.

Midge-resistant durum is in the final year of testing, and could be commercially available in three to four years.

Singh seemed most excited when describing new winter durum varieties. Seeding durum in the fall may one day enable Prairie farmers to harvest earlier, lowering the risk of damage from frost and some disease. The winter durum varieties on display at SPARC are Russian types that don’t meet Canadian standards.

"We’re starting to make some crosses now," Singh said. But the final product is "20 years away, at least."

While the end results are still uncertain, he says, "If we don’t try it, we won’t know."

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers pulse breeder Tom Warkentin described the pulse breeding program, in which there are more varieties of all major pulse crops in the pipeline.

"We’re using modern genomics to seep up our efforts," Warkentin says. While he stresses that this is not the same as genetic modification, using genetic markers to identify traits allows for faster breeder progress.

Key elements to the pulse breeding program are biofortification, efforts to breed crops with higher levels of nutrients such as zinc or iron, and improving herbicide resistance.

Other projects on display included trials of various pea inoculants applied at different rates, phosphorus uptake in wheat and canola, spraying hybrid canola at different plant stages, and new pea varieties that may be suitable for forage.

— Leeann Minogue is editor of Grainews at Griffin, Sask.

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