Western Grains Research Foundation Approves $3.8 Million Breeding Tools Initiative

Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) is pleased to announce funding for a new research initiative that will strengthen and advance public cereal breeding programs across Western Canada. WGRF has approved Endowment Fund Directed Research Program funding of $3.8 Million dollars over the next five years for an initiative to develop genomic tools, increase genomic capacity, and enhance the use of doubled haploid in cereal crop breeding programs.

Most Canadian breeding programs already utilize some doubled haploid and genomic technology. However, the full potential of these technologies is not being fully exploited because implementation has not kept pace with changing technology. Breeders currently rely on marker technology with limited through-put capacity, restricting breeding programs to evaluating only a few marker-trait combinations in a few targeted plant populations.

Greater use of genomic technologies will mean faster, more accurate identification of the best genes available in seed germplasm to breed into varieties for commercial production. Doubled haploid technology accelerates the cycle of crop breeding. Together, these technologies can get improved varieties into farmers’ fields quicker and add to the producer’s bottom line. “WGRF is excited about the impact this breeding tools initiative can have for producers,” says Don Dewar, WGRF Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Endowment Fund Advisory Committee. “The potential to accelerate the crop breeding cycle and speed the release of improved varieties to market is a worthwhile and powerful investment for producers to make.”

The research initiative being funded is a joint initiative being lead by Dr. Curtis Pozniak at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, and Dr. François Eudes and Dr. Brent McCallum, both with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

“This project is truly a public collaboration” notes Dr. Pozniak. “All of the major public research institutions with activities in wheat breeding and science are contributing to the research effort. The research being conducted will ensure that breeders have access to the latest technologies to develop higher yielding, disease resistant cultivars with an end-use quality package in demand by over-seas customers. Dr. Eudes adds, “With this project, we are looking at establishing an invaluable breeding tool for cereal breeders that will shorten the cycle of wheat and barley cultivar development.”

This is one of many important strategic research initiatives WGRF will fund through the Endowment Fund Directed Research Program on behalf of Western Canadian crop producers. WGRF expects to fund initiatives in priority areas like Fusarium Head Blight /DON/Mycotoxins; Post-Harvest Handling to Address Quality/Market Access; Pest and Weather Surveillance; Agronomy; and New Crops and Crop Uses.

“The decision to fund this crop breeding tool initiative for major cereal crops and the previously announced one million dollar investment by WGRF in the Phytotron renewal project at the University of Saskatchewan to support research for a broad range of crops are important steps towards keeping Western Canadian producers at the forefront of crop research.” notes Dewar.

Mike Espeseth
Communications Manager
Western Grains Research Foundation
(306) 975-0365

Curtis Pozniak, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre
(306) 966-2361

Francois Eudes, Ph.D.
Cereal Biotechnologist
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
(403) 382-3156


A key change to WGRF Endowment Fund Policy in 2010 was the addition of the Directed Research Program (DRP). This new program allows WGRF to become more directive with respect to the research funded. Each year, WGRF plans to approve funding under the DRP of at least $2.5 million over five years for DRP research projects. Funding in initial years will be higher than this planned target.

Since 1981 the WGRF Endowment Fund has provided over $21 million dollars in funding to over 200 research projects across all crop types through its traditional Letter of Intent (LOI) program, which will continue in addition to the Directed Research Program. The LOI program will also see its research spending increase, with annual approved funding of about $800,000 over three years for LOI projects.

In response to last summer’s call for Directed Research Program proposals in the area of Crop Breeding Tools, attractive research proposals from a producer perspective were received by WGRF. At WGRF’s request, researchers consolidated the proposed research activities into a single initiative in order to ensure the benefits of collaboration among research institutions are achieved and cost of the research initiative is affordable.

The main thrust of the initiative is the development of two technology platforms that will be used by WGRF-funded cereal breeding programs in Western Canada. First, a genomics platform is to be developed using molecular information derived from sequencing of our best wheat cultivars that would then be used for high throughput marker assisted breeding. Secondly, a doubled haploid platform will be created based on the development and deployment of an integrated microspore culture (IMC).

IMC is one of the three common techniques allowing to rapidly fix the genetics of crosses made by breeders. It accelerates the process of new varieties by 3 to 4 years. The use of genomic technologies in support of traditional breeding will allow for the design of effective selection strategies to combine the best genes available in germplasm to meet new demands for commercially relevant traits.