Volume 9, Number 9 January 11, 2002

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New ‘doubled haploid’ lab to promote winter wheat

With an injection of $25,000 in capital funding from SaskPower and Ducks Unlimited (DU), the University’s College of Agriculture is now in a position to reduce the time it takes for new varieties of winter wheat to make it from the laboratory to the farmer’s field.

According to Brian Fowler, a plant scientist in the Crop Development Centre, the newly equipped doubled haploid laboratory could see varieties ready for the field in as little as seven years, down considerably from the usual 12-15 years needed for production.

“The biggest advantage of the doubled haploid lab will be the time save in variety development,” he said during a Nov. 29 news conference to announce the lab opening.  By focusing on yield and profitability of new varieties, Fowler said the hope is winter wheat will find “an economic place in the farm production system.”

In conventional crop breeding, the first cross of two plants creates a variety of progeny which then have to be bred over several generations before they stabilize and can be accurately assessed for their various characteristics, explained Rick Holm, Director of the Crop Development Centre.  With the new lab equipment, haploid cells from the first generation of progeny are “tricked” into doubling their number of chromosomes.  This stabilizes the variety immediately, allowing for earlier assessment.

Funding for the lab was made available through a SaskPower and DU initiative directed at environmental conservation.  Under the initiative, SaskPower provides DU with $115,000 annually and the two organizations then work together to identify worthwhile projects.  The doubled haploid lab is one of four projects that will be funded this year.  That initiative includes $100,000 per year for five years to fund the Eco-Agricultural Research Chair in the College of Agriculture, a position currently held by Fowler.

DU also provides Fowler with up to $50,000 annually based on project proposals.

Lee Moats, director of the DU winter wheat program, said his organization’s aim is to “find ways to make agriculture and habitat conservation fit together”, and the new lab represents “an important piece of the puzzle.  It’s also a testament to the power of partnerships.”

Agriculture and conservation are particularly important to dabbling ducks like the mallard and the northern pintail, Moats said.  These birds return to the Prairies and nest very early in the spring, often choosing stubble fields as home.  DU promotes the use of crops like winter wheat and fall rye, he said, because they provide perfect habitat and eliminate the risk of nest destruction during spring fieldwork.

For its part, SaskPower sees its support for the lab as “living up to our commitment” to balance safe and reliable power service with concern for the environment, said Judy May, Manager of Customer Services.   

Speaking in support of both the partnership between SaskPower, DU and the University, and the efforts being made in winter wheat research, Rod Johnson, Vice-President of Winter Cereals Canada pointed out a number of agronomic benefits to growing winter crops, including making use of moisture reserves and early spring precipitation, and increasing flexibility in the overall farm operation.

The economic benefits, he said, centre on lower capital and input costs for the farmer.  Environmentally, winter crops can reduce wind and water erosion, and create vital habitat for waterfowl.

Johnson said the aim of Winter Cereals Canada, a farmer-based commodity organization, is to increase winter cereal acreage across Canada by touting its key role “in environmentally sound and therefore sustainable” farming system.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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