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Food wins food-vs.-fuel debate on Prairies: CWB

Close to 90 per cent of wheat acres on Canada’s Prairies are seeded to spring wheat or durum with intent to go into bread or pasta, the Canadian Wheat Board says.

According to the board’s 2008 variety survey, despite the recent attention given to food crops flowing into ethanol production, the proportion of wheats grown for food has not changed from the past, the CWB said in a release Thursday.

Over 8,800 farmers took part in this year’s survey, the CWB said, noting a third of those completed it online.

The vast majority of western Canadian wheat farmers still plant the breadmaking Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat (61.9 per cent) or the pasta and cous-cous ingredient Canada Western Amber Durum (CWAD) wheat (26.5 per cent), the board said.

“This survey confirms that Prairie grain farmers are still working to feed the world,” said CWB CEO Ian White in the release. Acres dedicated to milling wheat have for decades hovered around 90 per cent of total wheat acres, he said.

There are seven other minor classes of wheat, including those used more frequently for animal feed or ethanol. A new wheat class, Canada Western General Purpose, was introduced this year with no milling quality requirements, intended to introduce high-yield wheat varieties for the feed and ethanol markets. It now contains three varieties, the CWB said.

To produce higher-quality milling wheat, farmers are turning to newer varieties bred for specific agronomic traits. There have been 27 new CWRS varieties introduced since 2001 with “more on the way for next year,” the CWB said.

Lillian, introduced just two years ago, is already the most commonly seeded spring wheat variety in Canada, the CWB said. Harvest, a variety first seeded three years ago, this year overtook Superb as the second-most widespread spring wheat. AC Barrie, the top variety on the Prairies for over a decade until 2006, is in fourth spot this year, below Superb.

The days of one long-standing common variety are over, CWB agronomist Mike Grenier said in the board’s release, as farmers show interest in new varieties that help them deal with their specific cropping issues. For instance, “Lillian is helpful in dealing with sawfly, while Harvest has advantages for sprout resistance.”

New varieties planned for release next year will show “even more” improvements in yield, protein and agronomic traits such as maturity, lodging, sprouting and pest resistance, he said.

Looking past 2009, Grenier said, farmers can expect to see varieties with improved resistance to wheat midge, leaf rust and fusarium head blight.

CORRECTION, Oct. 9: A version of this article filed earlier today included incorrect information, stating that the acres seeded to CWRS and CWAD formed 65.7 and 23.9 per cent of total Prairie wheat acreage, respectively.

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