E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Heritage wheat and trends in wheat breeding

(Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- With the prospect of Monsanto introducing genetically engineered wheat in -- well, it's really hard to say -- the short, medium or long term, the rights of wheat growers, trends in wheat breeding, and other related issues are important to consider.

With this in mind, here are two excerpts from material on the subject, followed by links to more complete information.

The first concerns the efforts of Sharon Rempel and others in Canada to preserve and protect heritage wheat varieties. The second comes from a press release by Meristem Information Resources about the direction of wheat breeding.

1. Heritage Wheat Project

Heritage wheat varieties are a valuable genetic resource. The loss of heritage varieties of all crops is a serious global biodiversity issue. The awareness and need for conservation of plant genetic resources (PGR) is growing but few countries have adequate 'in situ' or 'ex situ' programs for their native plant material, let alone introduced ornamental and agricultural plants. Governments expect private companies to do the conservation work and have an open policy of exchanging seeds. Companies make money and put patents on seeds so royalties are payable when using seeds.

Heritage variety conservation is a part of a broader picture of a conservation ethic that includes "farmers' rights" as an aspect of choice of seed. There are also spiritual and cultural reasons why farmers around the world have treasured certain seeds and varieties for centuries. They taste good, produce a good yield in that area, and are adapted to that area.

A heritage wheat has been selected by farmers to suit culinary, taste, color, cultural and climatic needs from a region of the world. The crop may have developed adaptations to the stresses in the region including diseases and pests.

The variety strengths appear through the selection and adaptation process when the variety grows in the field. A heritage plant has not conceived in a lab, but was selected in the field, probably by farmers, establishing a strong 'people, plant and place' relationship.

Since commercial seed sales started, old varieties have been discarded in favor of 'new and improved' varieties. In many parts of the world during the past sixty years scientific plant breeders developed these new varieties. Farmers were encouraged to buy the new seed as well as chemicals and fertilizers to obtain maximum yields. There have been improvements with scientific breeding but there is need for 'on farm' variety maintenance and selection that includes farmers' wisdom and the knowledge from their relationship with the place and the plant. Privately funded programs have replaced 'public plant breeding' programs in Canada and regional field stations have been closed with central facilities doing the breeding work...http://members.shaw.ca/oldwheat

2. New wheat breeding report outlines key progress, trends, issues

Which wheat varieties will fill Prairie fields over the next decade? Where are the major wheat classes headed? How will issues in crop genetics affect Canada's wheat industry? Perspectives on these and other questions are featured in a new report on wheat breeding in Western Canada.

The 2003 Wheat Breeding Report, "Canada in the Big Picture," was produced by Meristem Information Resources Ltd., an independent, Calgary-based communications company, in partnership with Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), the largest grains research funding organization for farmers in Western Canada. The report looks at key progress, trends and issues in wheat breeding, including a short course on how Western Canada develops wheat varieties.

"Wheat breeding is a window on the future of the crop," says Dr. Keith Degenhardt, Hughenden, Alta. producer and Chair of WGRF. "It reflects everything from farmer needs and consumer demands to market competition, scientific advances and social issues. It also has a dramatic impact on Canada's wheat success, with many spin-offs. But despite its importance, wheat breeding is often not well understood by producers and others who have a fundamental stake in the wheat development system."

For farmers, what happens in wheat breeding carries added weight as a major investment, he says. Since 1993/94, wheat growers in Western Canada have invested $3 million annually in wheat breeding programs in Western Canada through the Wheat Check-off Fund administered by WGRF. The Foundation is funded and directed by producers, who ...http://www.meristem.com