August 31, 2021 (Calgary, AB; Saskatoon, SK; Carman, MB; Winnipeg, MB) – The Canadian Wheat Research Coalition (CWRC), alongside the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) and the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission (SWCDC), have committed funding to a core breeding agreement with the University of Manitoba (UM). Valued at over $3.5 million over five years, this agreement will ensure the continuation of the successful Fusarium head blight (FHB) nursery program, along with the winter wheat breeding program.
The primary objective for the UM’s FHB screening nursery is to continue evaluating breeding lines for their reaction to Fusarium graminearum – the most common causal agent of FHB. As one of few FHB screening nurseries in Canada, the UM program returns vital information to the network of western Canadian breeding efforts, and is the key to developing future wheat varieties with FHB resistance. While the focus for winter wheat research will be the delivery of field ready cultivars, development of new genetic tools to help improve winter wheat quality will feature heavily. The agreement, which is an increase of $1.6 million over the previous core breeding agreement, also includes the training of students as future scientists in wheat research.
Known for her contributions to FHB research, UM’s long-time winter wheat breeder Dr. Anita Brûlé-Babel is set to retire this December, with Dr. Curt McCartney assuming the role. Prior to joining the UM, McCartney was a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Morden, Manitoba, where he focused on cereal genetics targeting resistance to FHB, leaf and stem rust, and orange wheat blossom midge.
“This foundational funding of UM’s wheat breeding program ensures the continued evaluation of FHB resistance of breeding lines from across the Prairies,” says McCartney. “Dr. Brûlé-Babel’s research has been critically important for developing varieties with improved FHB resistance and has provided excellent training for graduate students. With this new agreement, I plan to build upon her successes through the development and implementation of genomics-assisted breeding techniques.”
The CWRC is a collaboration between the Alberta Wheat Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and the Manitoba Crop Alliance with a focus on funding genetic and agronomic wheat research for western Canadian farmers. The UM agreement represents the fourth and final core funding agreement with the public wheat breeding programs in Western Canada. Previously announced agreements include $22.6 million to AAFC, $9.6 million to the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, and $2 million to the University of Alberta. These core agreements provide support to key capacity in the breeding programs. In recognition of the winter wheat and FHB focus of the UM program, WGRF and SWCDC are providing $935,000 and $50,000, respectively, over the term of the agreement.
“FHB is a growing concern across the Prairies as it not only compromises yield, but also end-use quality and food safety. As a farmer, my best line of defence starts at variety selection, so having access to FHB resistant wheat varieties is key for my farming operation.”
– Fred Greig, CWRC Chair
“The University of Manitoba is an important piece of the western Canadian wheat breeding network. Renewing this long-term agreement creates stability for the winter wheat breeding program and ensures access to a coordinated FHB screening nursery that will continue to provide benefits for the wheat breeding programs across western Canada.”
– Dr. Keith Degenhardt, WGRF Chair
“Winter wheat is a sustainable crop that promotes good environmental stewardship. Breeding for winter wheat varieties that better survive prairie winters is critical to continued uptake and adoption by producers. A better understanding of the genomics which influence winter survival and improve quality will lead to cultivars I can incorporate into crop rotations to enhance my farm’s profitability.”
– John Burns, SWCDC Chair
“The producer-funded support from the CWRC, WGRF and SWCDC will be critical for supporting a strong program of winter wheat breeding and FHB resistance research at the University of Manitoba. As Dr. Brûlé-Babel capably passes the torch to Dr. McCartney, I know we can look forward to continuing to develop profitable and climate resilient wheat genetics for western Canadian farmers.”
– Dr. Martin Scanlon, Dean, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, UM