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Producer group promotes barley

MWBGA is putting its research dollars into fusarium head blight resistance

The Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA) says it is committed to research and market development of wheat and barley in the province, including one project focused on genomic selection for improving two-row malting barley.

Officially established on January 1, 2014, MWBGA is funded by Manitoba farmers through a checkoff on wheat and barley. MWBGA joined other organizations in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the post-Wheat Board era to promote wheat and barley growers’ interests and strategically invest in research and development initiatives in all three Prairie provinces.

According to Brent Van-Koughnet, executive director of MWBGA, producers needed representation for key issues in industry development. “In Alberta, there was a Barley Commission, but in Saskatchewan and Manitoba there were no barley organizations that had producer representatives, and wheat growers in all Western provinces needed representation,” he says.

MWBGA is an active member of Cereals Canada and the Barely Council of Canada. “We think we can get the greatest net return back to producers by contributing to those partnerships for market development in wheat and barley,” says VanKoughnet.

VanKoughnet says roughly 70 per cent of MWBGA’s budget will be spent on research. And the majority of issues facing wheat and barley growers are not Manitoba-specific, but are common across Western Canada. “We’re doing our best to be integrated with the thinking of Saskatchewan and Alberta,” he says. “There are world-class Prairie researchers that can approach those issues across all three provinces.”

Manitoba researchers bring expertise in Fusarium management to the Western Canadian effort, which makes the province ideally situated to investigate potential breeding lines for improving FHB resistance in malting barley.

“There are nationally recognized researchers here in Manitoba who have been working on the issues over a number of years, and collaborating internationally,” says Lori-Ann Kaminski, research manager for MWBGA. “So it makes sense for Saskatchewan and Alberta dollars to be invested in Manitoba researchers.”

Improving two-row malting barley

This year marks the first of the three-year project, “Application and Evaluation of Genomic Selection for Improving Fusarium Head Blight Resistance and Lowering Deoxynivalenol Accumulation in Two-row Malting Barley,” which will be overseen by Dilantha Fernando, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Manitoba, Ana Badea, a barley breeding specialist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Brandon Research Centre, and James Tucker, a PhD candidate at the University of Manitoba. Funding ($158,000) comes from the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) and the Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI).

The researchers will sort through germplasm stored at the AAFC Brandon Research Centre, identifying sources of resistance to FHB in the gene pool. “Brandon runs a disease testing nursery for all of Ag Canada’s western breeding programs,” says Kaminski. “They screen barley that’s in breeding development for other research sites. They’ll have the ability to look at barley from across the breeding programs.”

By the project’s conclusion, the researchers aim to have selected and validated a minimum of 100 elite barley lines that have significant resistance backgrounds, which can then be used in barley breeding programs.

“Fusarium resistance is a tough nut. It’s multi-factorial and goes across a number of genes,” says Kaminski. “And it’s a tricky balance, finding the genetics that work agronomically.”

Though genomic selection will be used to identify the strongest lines, all of the resulting lines will end up in traditional breeding programs. “This project aims to understand where fusarium resistance sits within the barley genome,” Kaminski says.

VanKoughnet says a major challenge facing barley breeding in Western Canada is combining strong agronomic characteristics (such as FHB resistance) with the unique needs of maltsters and feeders. “When those are out of sync, we have a variety we can’t sell, or an underperforming variety with a high demand,” he says.

“Of course that marketplace gets more fascinating than ever with the rapid emergence of craft breweries, which are looking for something a little different.”

VanKoughnet says the organization is also in talks with Manitoba beef producers, asking how barley producers and beef producers can work together.

He says he’s encouraged by the work western Canadian wheat and barley commissions and growers organizations have done in looking at ways producers can more effectively participate in variety development. “As we all established our organizations we asked ourselves what has the most significant influence on the profitability of cereals. For the most part, it’s access to the most innovative and progressive varieties,” he says.

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Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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