Team ef­fort cre­ates award-win­ning wheat va­ri­ety

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - OPINION - By Matthew Lieben­berg mlieben­[email protected]­t.com

A wheat va­ri­ety de­vel­oped by well-known wheat breeder Dr. Ron DePauw and the wheat breed­ing team at the Swift Cur­rent Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre has taken the mar­ket by storm and re­ceived a pres­ti­gious award.

AAC Bran­don was se­lected as the 2018-19 win­ner of the Seed of the Year West award. This in­dus­try ini­tia­tive to rec­og­nize public seed re­search has been ac­knowl­edg­ing plant breed­ers in west­ern Canada since 2008 and in eastern Canada since 2005.

DePauw worked for over 40 years for Agri­cul­ture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and for most of this time he was a wheat breeder at the Swift Cur­rent re­search cen­tre. He re­tired from the de­part­ment in 2015 and there­after be­came a sci­ence ad­vi­sor for SeCan, a con­sor­tium of over 700 Cana­dian seed busi­nesses.

“The de­vel­op­ment of AAC Bran­don is not me alone,” he em­pha­sized. “This is re­ally the AAFC wheat team. It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tion among all of the wheat sci­en­tists.”

He sent an e-mail to his for­mer col­leagues at the Swift Cur­rent Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre on July 31 to let them know that AAC Bran­don was se­lected as Seed of the Year. In his mes­sage he high­lighted key points that re­sulted in the suc­cess of this wheat va­ri­ety, in­clud­ing the pro­ducer check-off pro­gram that en­gaged pro­duc­ers and helped to set re­search goals. He also men­tioned the col­lab­o­ra­tion among all the wheat re­search teams as one of those fac­tors.

The wheat breed­ing team at AAFC Swift Cur­rent col­lab­o­rated with a num­ber of re­search sta­tions across the prairies dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of AAC Bran­don.

“Bran­don comes out of a long his­tory of the breed­ing pro­ce­dures that we’ve been prac­tis­ing at the Swift Cur­rent Re­search De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre go­ing back to late 1970s,” he said.

It took about a decade of work be­fore this wheat va­ri­ety be­came avail­able to grow­ers. The last cross dur­ing the plant breed­ing process was made in 2003, and test­ing then took place for sev­eral years at Swift Cur­rent and In­dian Head in Saskatchew­an as well as at Mor­den and Car­man in Man­i­toba. Plant ma­te­rial was also sent to New Zealand for a num­ber of years.

“That is to ac­cel­er­ate the breed­ing process,” he ex­plained. “We were able to grow two gen­er­a­tions a year. So we grow one gen­er­a­tion in Canada, we make our se­lec­tions, we send the seed to mul­ti­ply the seed up and to in­breed it and do fur­ther se­lect­ing, and then we bring it back to Canada. We were able to re­duce the time to reg­is­tra­tion by four years by hav­ing used the win­ter nurs­ery.”

The pre-reg­is­tra­tion tri­als started in 2007 and sup­port for reg­is­tra­tion was re­ceived in 2012. SeCan won the mar­ket­ing rights for this wheat va­ri­ety through a re­quest for pro­posal process.

“We had about 400 kilo­grams of seed that we gave to SeCan,” he re­called. “From there they mul­ti­plied that 400 kilo­grams of seed in 2012 and they mul­ti­plied it again in 2013 and in 2014.”

AAC Bran­don was launched in the fall of 2014 for com­mer­cial plant­ing in 2015, and it soon be­came widely used by pro­duc­ers across the prairies.

“In this par­tic­u­lar case, AAC Bran­don has just blown the walls off the build­ings in terms of it’s very rapid adop­tion by pro­duc­ers,” he said. “No­body was able to foresee the de­gree to which the adop­tion oc­curred.”

Farm­ers quickly re­al­ized that this wheat va­ri­ety has a num­ber of traits that fits in well with their pro­duc­tion sys­tems, and the word started to spread.

“In 2016, only the sec­ond year of it’s availabili­ty for com­mer­cial grow­ers, AAC Bran­don was al­ready the most widely grown wheat not only in the Canada West­ern Red Spring class, but the most widely grown va­ri­ety of wheat in Canada,” he said. “Then in 2017 it con­tin­ued to ex­pand in acreage and by 2018 it was about a third of all of the prairie acreage. It’s pro­ject­ing that for 2019 it could be up to half of the prairie acreage. Peo­ple are just com­pletely as­tounded by it.”

He added that the suc­cess of AAC Bran­don is even more im­pres­sive if it is con­sid­ered that there are about 70 hard red spring wheat va­ri­eties reg­is­tered for farm­ers to choose from. AAC Bran­don is grown across the prairies from south­east­ern Man­i­toba all the way up to the Peace River Re­gion by Fort Ver­mil­ion.

It has a whole suite of traits that ap­peals to pro­duc­ers and that makes it pos­si­ble to meet the dif­fer­ent needs of grow­ers.

“Grain yield is neg­a­tively re­lated with pro­tein con­tent,” he said.

“We were able to shift that neg­a­tive re­la­tion­ship so that Bran­don not only has high grain yield, it also has pro­tein con­tent com­pa­ra­ble to any of the other va­ri­eties of wheat that are lower yield. So that’s one big thing, and then it has a shorter, stronger straw, and that en­ables the va­ri­ety to fit into re­duced tillage sys­tems.”

Farm­ers with re­duced tillage op­er­a­tions will leave the straw on the land and plant into the stub­ble crop. A shorter, stronger plant means less straw will be put through the com­bine. A weaker straw va­ri­ety might re­quire a lower cut closer to the ground that will put more straw through the com­bine and con­sumes more energy.

“Then when you’ve got a shorter stub­ble, they’re not able to trap as much snow and you’ve got more crop residue to con­tend with when they are plant­ing the fol­low­ing spring,” he ex­plained.

“They might even in­cur an extra op­er­a­tion where they’re us­ing a heavy har­row to break up the straw and spread it around. A short, strong straw va­ri­ety that stands up re­ally fits into a re­duced tillage sys­tem. And this va­ri­ety has re­sulted in farm­ers being able to har­vest more bushels per hour with fewer gal­lons of fuel.”

Another ad­van­tage of AAC Bran­don is a mod­er­ate resistance to fusar­ium head blight as well as to a num­ber of other dis­eases, in­clud­ing leaf rust, stem rust, and yel­low rust.

“It has this higher grain yield with no loss of pro­tein,” he said. “This was achieved through bet­ter water use ef­fi­ciency and bet­ter ni­tro­gen use ef­fi­ciency. The plant has a much bet­ter fac­tory for the pro­duc­tion of carbohydra­tes and up­take of ni­tro­gen and re­mo­bi­liza­tion for grain and yield.”

AAC Bran­don has per­formed well dur­ing a few wet years on the eastern prairies after it was re­leased, but more re­cently it con­tin­ued to de­liver good yield dur­ing hot and dry years.

“It has been a sur­prise in some ways, but it’s also a con­fir­ma­tion of the strat­egy that we were us­ing for breed­ing and se­lect­ing that re­sulted in the re­al­iza­tion of this as a very good strat­egy,” he said.

“The strat­egy that we were us­ing in the de­vel­op­ment of our ge­net­ics was to select plants that were very ro­bust. Plants that could han­dle a va­ri­ety of stresses, that could han­dle tough seedbed con­di­tions, that could han­dle heat, that could han­dle cool con­di­tions. We were se­lect­ing in the early gen­er­a­tions for a mul­ti­plic­ity of stresses and we thought wher­ever you’re grow­ing wheat in Canada, ev­ery year some­body is go­ing to have a big stress. So we wanted to de­velop plants that were ro­bust.”

His goal as a wheat breeder was to de­velop su­pe­rior va­ri­eties for farm­ers, and that re­quired an un­com­pro­mis­ing ap­proach to breed­ing.

He had very spe­cific qual­ity pa­ram­e­ters for each trait, for ex­am­ple with re­gard to the yield, pro­tein, height, straw strength, and dis­ease resistance at­tributes.

“So when I’m se­lect­ing, if a va­ri­ety failed to meet a cri­te­ria, even though it had many other good traits, I would dis­card it,” he said.

“I wouldn’t get se­duced by yield or I wouldn’t get se­duced by an out­stand­ing fusar­ium rat­ing. What I was look­ing for was a va­ri­ety that had the full suite of traits. In or­der to do that, you have to have very strate­gic crosses.”

The use of all avail­able tools such as molec­u­lar mark­ers or qual­ity an­a­lyt­i­cal tools will be­come crit­i­cal dur­ing this com­pli­cated sci­en­tific pro­ce­dure, and team­work is also es­sen­tial.

“The dis­ease nurs­eries and the agro­nomic nurs­eries be­come su­per im­por­tant to iden­tify those that have all of the traits that you’re look­ing for,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to DePauw there are a num­ber of lessons from the suc­cess of AAC Bran­don. The first les­son is that ge­net­ics work. A sec­ond les­son is that there is not a per­fect va­ri­ety, and a third les­son is that pathogens will change.

“You have to have very good sur­veil­lance to be able to find out at what rate they have changed so that you can en­gage in pro­phy­lac­tic breed­ing,” he said.

“You can never take your foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor, be­cause of all of th­ese changes of cli­mate and pathogens and in­sects in or­der to bring to­gether the new genes to make even fur­ther ge­netic gain.”

Photo sub­mit­ted

Dr. Ron DePauw (third from right, with hat) dur­ing a visit with the wheat team at the Univer­sity of Guelph in July 2019. They are stand­ing in the univer­sity’s fusar­ium head blight nurs­ery and giv­ing a thumbs down or thumbs up for dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of semi-dwarf wheat based on their dis­ease resistance. From left to right, Ryan Costello, Mi­tra Ser­a­jazari, Ni­cholas Wilker, Peter Pauls, Ron DePauw, Mina Ka­viani, and Wil­lie Van­der­pol.

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