Wheat &Chaff – for Oct. 4, 2010

13 NEW CEREAL VARIETIES

When I first started out as a writer in the agriculture industry I loathed September for one reason — new varieties. Why, you may ask? Well, I won’t bore you with the details, but compiling a comprehensive, useful and complete list of new, commercially available varieties of any crop is a rather, um, unfun process.

Now, I sit at the helm ofGrainews and somehow, I still can’t dodge this bullet entirely. My trusty sidekick Lee Hart took one for the team and compiled this year’s list of 13 cereal varieties for your enjoyment. Next issue, it’s my turn to highlight the new canola varieties. See? Even the editor has to do the grunt work sometimes.

Of course, I do it because I think it’s important. On average, it takes 10 years of painstaking work to launch one new, improved cereal variety. In Canada, at least for now, those 10 years of work are largely publicly funded. For that reason alone, we should celebrate every new line that’s launched. Our variety listing on page 14 is our small contribution to that.

PRIVATE MONEY FLOWS TO WHEAT BREEDING

All this talk of new varieties brings me to one of my favourite topics: the state of plant breeding in Canada. Very recently, my inbox was inundated with announcement after announcement of new wheat-breeding partnerships and commitments by private companies. It seemed almost orchestrated. I put the question of “Why now?” to Jim Bagshaw, national seeds-marketing manager, cereals for Syngenta Canada. Syngenta is one of the companies who recently announced added investment in wheat breeding for Western Canada.

Bagshaw says it is interesting that there were more announcements made in 2010 in regards to wheat-breeding commitments than have likely been made over the past 10 years. In his view, the timing of this is logical. “All the big agriculture and seed firms are looking forward for opportunity,” he says. Most of these companies are already heavily into corn, soy and canola. Wheat, Bagshaw says, is the last truly global crop without a lot of private investment in North America.

“Wheat is the next frontier (for private breeding),” he says. While several companies have advertised their interest, some are just at the beginning stages of their program. “Syngenta has been committed to this for a long time,” Bagshaw says. “With investment in breeding at our Morden (Manitoba) site, we have been steadily increasing the number of lines registered in the Canadian market.” Syngenta has been active in the U. S. market for a long time with its AgriPro Wheat varieties. “It’s actually the No. 1 wheat-breeding company in the U. S.

“We do have a number of excellent lines in Canada already,” Bagshaw says, noting that Viterra sells several Hard Red Spring lines developed by Syngenta and recently released the first Syngenta branded variety in a collaboration with Richardson International. Syngenta has set up shop near Morden, Man. They’ve hired a wheat breeder and will roll out more Syngenta-branded varieties over the next two years.

“Our focus is on improving disease resistance, insect tolerance and other agronomic traits,” Bagshaw says. All of this built on the quality parameters the Canadian registration demands, of course.

“Wheat breeding hasn’t been sexy, like some other crops,” he says. “But over the next 10 years, I think we’re going to see that change. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg as to what’s possible.”

Syngenta, he says, is taking a bit of a different approach to screening its lines. “We’re looking at lines in combination with crop enhancement products, such as seed treatments and fungicides.” The idea being that, down the road, new varieties would do fine on their own but Syngenta would have added performance data to show how much better they do when treated with different products. “(We’ve found) some varieties respond much better to products,” Bagshaw says. “We don’t want to just look at varieties or products in isolation.”

GM WHEAT

And what of biotech wheat? Bagshaw states that Syngenta is committed to working towards solutions for the challenges that face wheat farmers through the use of a number of methods. This includes the development of genetically modified (GM) wheat, which represents another tool to ensure sustainable supplies of high-quality wheat at reasonable prices in the face of increasing incidence of fusarium. Syngenta is working on a very promising-looking trait, but the company says that it’s in the early stages of development.

Resistance to fusarium head blight is and would be a very popular wheat variety trait with many farmers. Whether or not they want it to come from GM sources is a matter of debate.

Bagshaw says flat out that any fusarium-tolerant or other genetically modified lines would have to go through the rigorous science reviews of the federal government before being registered, and the food chain or market forces would have to be supportive of moving forward before commercialization.

I asked what exactly “market acceptance” really means, in that, I’d like to know which market or how many have to say yes to the technology or trait before we gauge the point of “acceptance.” Neither Bagshaw nor I have the answer of course, but he says, “If consumers and industry say yes, then we’ll move ahead. He also says that Syngenta has been encouraged by what they see as the stakeholder views shifting to be more open to new technology in wheat, including GM. The amount of global dollars — and not necessarily from Syngenta — committed to improvements in wheat, including genetic modification, is growing.

Genetic modification is only one piece of the technology puzzle, Bagshaw says. There are several other means to advancing wheat development without crossing into GM. As for what other traits may be on the horizon, Bagshaw says, from his perspective, it won’t be herbicide tolerance, but more likely disease, salinity, frost or drought tolerance.

IN THIS ISSUE

There was once a time, way back when, when manure was just about all I was asked about. Excuse me? you say. At the time I was working for a fledgling magazine focused entirely on, yes, manure. While it’s true I was also writing for four other magazines, that one is the one that everyone wanted to know about. I was often introduced as “The one who writes about manure.” I’m certain they weren’t being facetious. I could be wrong.

When I decided that this fall issue was a good one to talk about soil fertility, I immediately thought of the big N, but I also thought it was a good chance to remind the farming family about manure. Those who have it, of course, can’t really forget about it, but that’s part of the issue. While commercial fertilizer is a consistent blend and easy to apply, manure poses much greater challenges. These challenges can render it a nuisance or, if handled correctly, a resource.

That’s the mindset I’ve chosen, and so I asked Scott Garvey to put together a few stories on manure management. He wasted no time in loading up his manure spreader and calibrating it, taking pictures along the way to share with our readers. The man’s dedicated, I’ll give you that. Check out his tips on page 36.

I couldn’t very well ignore the more conventional means of fertilizing crops. Scott has also done a piece on the fit for specialty nitrogen sources ESN and Agrotain (page 5) and I do my best to get you to consider elemental S for the long haul on page 8.

As promised, this issue of Grainewsfeatures the launch of Scott’s In the Shop series — where Scott walks us through a particular repair, build or maintenance topic. This issue he’s all about wheel bearings. Check it out on page 26.

In developing this idea, Scott and I both hope that you, our readers, will send in your own questions you’d like to see answered, ideas for new projects or your very own how-to build or repair. Don’t hesitate to send me ( [email protected], 306-731-3637) or Scott ( [email protected], 306-435-2667) a note with your suggestions.

REPORT CARD

This issue marks No. 8 for me and my seventh month as editor ofGrainews.So far, I’ve had some good and bad feedback, and I welcome both types. What I’d like to see more of is your thoughts on what we’re doing right and what we’re missing the boat on. What kinds of articles do you want to see more of? What agronomy decision doesn’t get enough attention? What topics should we tackle? There is no wrong answer; I’d just like to know what you would like to see on these pages.

GIVE THANKS

As I write this, it’s gloomy and rainy and feels more like Vancouver in January than Saskatchewan in September. The crops are languishing out there, and it’s easy to get really bummed out about the disappointing growing season (and I’m not the one with a crop still out there). It’s going to be a tough winter with some slim margins for many, and I don’t want to downplay that, but I also hope that you’ll take the time in these next few weeks to count the good things in your life and give thanks. I promise to do the same.

Stay well, Lyndsey

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