Durum is Canada’s fourth largest crop by area after spring wheat, canola and barley. It covers five to six million acres and accounts for nearly billion dollars in sales each year. Yet, durum seems to fly below the radar of many Canadian farmers.
Asheesh (Danny) Singh wants to increase awareness of this important crop. One of only two durum breeders in Canada, Singh, based at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre (SPARC) at Swift Current, Sask., is working to raise durum’s profile the best way he knows how — by developing outstanding varieties.
Durum is used primarily for pasta and destined for export markets. As such, varieties must have high protein, a desirable yellow colour and specific gluten strength. There are niche markets for extra strong gluten varieties, and deep yellow pigments are highly valued by customers. Singh’s latest varieties maintain these stringent quality requirements, while providing improvements in yield potential, harvestability and pest resistance.
This past year, Singh and his team registered Enterprise, a conventional gluten strength variety with improved grain yield coupled with good protein and yellow pigment colour with a strong disease resistance package. In 2008, two extra strong varieties, Eurostar and Brigade, were registered. Both varieties, like some other crops destined for niche markets, will be grown under an identity preserved contract.
It’s too early to say whether Singh’s program will put new lines up for registration in February 2010, however two lines in their final year of co-op testing show real potential. If the 2009 numbers come back as favourable as the first two years of data, we ll likely put these lines forward in February, he says. The two lines show a real yield advantage over Strongfield as much “as 10 per cent” along with improvement of other traits. Both are traditional gluten strength lines.
NEW TRAITS COMING SOON
Durum varieties have to meet the demands of end users, but they also have to meet farmers’ expectations for yield, harvestability and pest resistance. “Resistance to pests, such as the wheat stem sawfly and orange wheat blossom midge, and pre-harvest sprouting tolerance are a few of the traits we are working on,” Singh says. More farmers want to straight cut durum, making harvestability very important. Diseases such as loose smut, leaf spot, common root rot and fusarium head blight are on the radar as well. New races of rust, both stem and leaf, may threaten the crop in coming years, and Singh wants to have varieties ready to resist them.
New solid stemmed varieties, ones that foil the sawfly, are continually under development and brought forward through testing. “We have two lines in their first year of Western Canada Cooperative testing,” Singh says, “as well as one midge resistant durum line in its first year of cooperative testing.” More genotypes resistant to each sawfly and wheat midge are in the pipeline.
A relatively new focus for the durum program is developing cultivars that use crop inputs more efficiently. This could be nitrogen and phosphorus, but it might also mean water or other nutrients. “It could be a variety that has deeper roots, with access to more water, or is more efficient at water uptake, meaning it produces more grain yield with the same water levels,” Singh says.
Drought tolerance, specifically, is one trait Singh’s program is always selecting for. Durum is typically grown in dry climates, but there is always a limit to how little moisture a plant can live on. In a dry year at Swift Current, where Singh is based, varieties that do well under that stress are advanced for further selection. It also provides a basis to further study just where that drought tolerance comes from using breeding, genetics, crop physiology and molecular marker technology.
“While we want to understand why a variety is more drought tolerant or uses less nitrogen to produce the same or higher grain yield, we’re more concerned about selecting for the trait right now.” Further work into pinpointing where the improved efficiency comes from will follow.
Lyndsey Smith is a Grainews field editor in
Lumsden, Sask. Email her at [email protected]