Where Are The “Shelf-Ready” High-Yielding Wheats?

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“The dream that we could just pull things off the shelves and put them in the co-op (trial) and have high yield potential was just that – a dream.”

BANFF

Kernel Visual Distinguishability was pushed into an early grave last August to clear the way for new developments in high-yielding wheat suitable for livestock feed and ethanol.

So where are the high-yielding wheats farmers were told plant breeders had on the shelf ready to release when KVD was no longer a prerequisite to registration?

That’s what some are asking, including Earl Geddes, the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) vice-president of farmer services, after learning none of the five new wheats recently recommended for registration under the Canada Western General Purpose (CWGP) class yield better than the check varieties.

“The dream that we could just pull things off the shelves and put them in the co-op (trial) and have high-yield potential was just that – a dream,” Curtis Pozniak, a plant breeder with the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre told the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (WRT) here Feb. 26.

Geddes is not surprised. In an interview Geddes said he never believed the claims by some plant breeders and industry leaders that high-yielding genetics suitable for livestock feed and ethanol would quickly enter the marketplace once KVD was out of the way.

What was arguably a false promise contributed to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s sudden order last year to kill KVD despite an industry consensus to phase it out by 2010 if an effective and affordable driveway test could be found to replace it.

“Canada’s grain quality reputation is being put at risk, we’re spending a crap load on testing and it’s costing farmers money,” Geddes said. “Someone should be held accountable.”

Farmers liable

KVD was a cheap and effective means of segregating Western wheats, by class, from the elevator to ship, ensuring quality control. Now farmers must declare they are delivering the right wheat to the right class and face huge penalties if they misrepresent a delivery, even if unintentionally.

Pozniak, who is also the CWGP co-op trials co-ordinator, said breeders are working to boost yields in the CWGP class, but it will take time and increases will be incremental.

Geddes agrees eventually the elimination of KVD might make it easier to develop higher-yielding wheats. Having no end-use quality standards in the CWGP class will probably help more than ending KVD. It’s often a failure to meet milling standards that sees a new wheat rejected.

At last year’s WRT meeting in Winnipeg Geddes moved a resolution to consider making it a prerequisite that new wheats destined for the CWGP class yield at least 10 per cent better than the checks.

The resolution, which passed, was later ruled out of order by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which registers new crop varieties. Regulations only require new varieties to be “equal to” not “better than” registered varieties.

University of Manitoba plant breeder Anita Brlé-Babel says yield is just one factor. Days to maturity and disease resistance are important too.

“I would be very upset if people only looked at yield as the main criteria for the class…,” she said.

Brlé-Babel said some CWGP checks, like AC Andrew and Hoffman, are already high yielding and therefore “inappropriate.”

Bill Chapman, Alberta Agriculture’s provincial agronomist for cereals, argued farmers need access to new wheats that can replace imported American corn.

“We’re missing out on it,” he said, referring to livestock and ethanol markets. “Let’s let the farmer decide.”

Of the 25 wheats put forward for registration this year nine were for the CWGP class. Of those, five were recommended for registration, two were withdrawn because of errors in the way the data was presented and two were rejected. [email protected]

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