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By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy

The world keeps changing rapidly through new technological advances such as gene editing. Agriculture fortunately benefits from many of these new technologies, helping feed more people on less land into the future.

In addition, diets and consumer preferences are changing around the world. There is increased demand for animal protein (leading to more feed grain demand), for higher quality baked products as incomes increase, a greater desire to understand product sustainability and where and how food is produced.

For centuries farmers have selected desirable traits to improve crops and livestock, including such innovations as shorter wheat plants needed to support the dramatic increase in yield potential resulting from the Green Revolution. Agriculture advances rapidly and keeps up with the changing demands largely because of advancements in production practices and plant breeding technologies through selective breeding, cross breeding, hybrids, marker assisted selection, genetic modification, and now gene editing.

Benefits of Gene Editing

Gene editing is the ability to precisely select genes in an organism’s genome to make targeted changes. This can also occur through conventional breeding – but with much more precise outcomes in less time due to gene editing. There are different types of gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR and TALENS. The advantages of these innovative breeding techniques will help bring more specific advancements in wheat to market more quickly and at a lower development cost, which would allow for a wide range of developers in the field to bring new products to market.

An image showing a wheat variety trial field to illustrate the article on gene editing in agriculture.

Gene editing offers more precise outcomes and less time getting improved wheat varieties to commercialization. For public wheat breeding programs seen in this trial at Colorado State University, gene editing also has the potential to reduce research costs.

According to a study by North Dakota State University (NDSU), the average cost of the process from research and development to market is greater for GMOs than gene editing. The study estimates that the average cost for gene editing is $13.3 million while GMOs averaged $80.7 million.

Like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other breeding methods, science and regulators demonstrate the safety of gene editing. Gene editing also holds excellent promise as a technology that supports sustainable food production. Desirable traits such as improving a crop’s ability to tolerate drought, producing more on less land, and improved disease-resistance. Just as GMO technology has done, gene editing can help sustain a long-term reduction in the use of crop protection products and fertilizer.

Gene Editing Research

The gene editing research happening today is looking at edits that would be positive for producers, consumers and the environment. For example, Calyxt has developed high fiber wheat using gene editing. The company hopes to release that trait through a closed-loop system – potentially in the next few years. To help consumers get enough fiber in their diets, this trait would positively improve human health. There is also research to develop a modified gluten wheat variety, which could be helpful to those that have a gluten intolerance.

Gene Editing Around the World

Several signs point to this innovative technology garnering more acceptance around the globe than GMOs have received. The world is beginning to recognize gene editing as a valuable tool, and many countries are currently revising their biotechnology regulations to positively incorporate gene editing technology in agriculture.

To date, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan have released guidance or proposed guidance on how to regulate gene edited crops. Those concepts mainly indicate that if there is no plant pest risk or foreign DNA in the final product, the gene edited crop would not be regulated.

In 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that gene editing technology was to be treated equally to GMOs, which are essentially banned in the EU. This spring, in a surprising announcement, the EU Commission released a report on gene editing stating that gene editing is different than GMO technology and should not be regulated in the same way. Although this is exciting, it is expected to take some time for the EU to determine its final regulations. However, this report opens the discussion for the EU to consider this new technology and see the benefits of embracing it to meet the needs of the world today, including the EU’s sustainability goals and feeding a growing population.

UK Consultation

Since separating from the EU, the United Kingdom (UK) held its own consultation on gene editing. The results from the consultation are expected to be released this year, but historically the UK has had a more positive view on science-based decisions than the EU. The UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stance is that “organisms produced by [gene editing] or by other genetic technologies should not be regulated as GMOs if they could have been produced by traditional breeding methods.” The consultation only impacts England, meaning the other UK countries would have to revise their own biotech regulations. This creates a challenge for some, including Northern Ireland, since it is still treated as part of the EU customs union under the BREXIT agreement.

Should the EU accept the safety of this technology, it can positively influence regulators in other countries. Positions on gene editing in many African and Asian countries are still in the early development phase, but it is believed that China will likely embrace this new technology and regulate gene editing the same as conventionally bred crops.

If the world can take a science-based approach to gene editing, there is the potential for several positive outcomes and advancements for trade, science, sustainability, food production, and agricultural advancement. However, if the EU and other countries continue enforcing anti-science agendas, there could be a negative impact on this promising new technology. With a growing global population to feed, agriculture cannot afford setbacks.

Image is a close up of wheat breeding work to illustrate the article on gene editing in agriculture.

In the wheat breeding program at Oklahoma State University scientists work long days crossing thousands of wheat prodigy using genetic stock from around the world. Gene editing can help breeders develop varieties that produce more and better quality wheat for a growing world.

As technology advances around the world, USW hopes to see it embraced without disrupting trade. Therefore, it is essential to use a science-based approach when developing policies affecting gene editing and other new technologies. USW and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) share a joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee (WBIC) that has informed breeders that it expects to be notified as early as possible of any wheat trait developed through plant breeding innovation technology. In that way, USW can gain input from major importing customers before such a product enters the U.S. commercial market to mitigate and eliminate potential trade barriers. You can access WBIC principles for commercialization here and the position statement here.

Visit these websites for more information about the benefits of gene editing innovations.

https://geneticliteracyproject.org/

https://innovature.com/

https://www.bio.org/ 

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/category/gene-editing/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/food-technology-gene-editing

 

 

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Originally published by University Communication, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Reprinted with permission. 

Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s P. Stephen Baenziger has advised that if you cannot be good, at least be lucky. He considers himself one of the luckiest people who has ever lived. The university knows him as a world leader in wheat breeding — a modest one.

Baenziger, the small grains breeder in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, will retire May 3 after 35 years of service to the university.

Long, Productive Career

The Wheat Growers Presidential Chair and a Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute Faculty Fellow started at the university in 1986. He began his career at the USDA-ARS in 1976 after he received his doctorate in 1975 at the age of 24. After working there for almost eight years, he joined Monsanto where he worked for almost three years and was first introduced to hybrid wheat before coming to Nebraska.

Baenziger’s program at Nebraska had three goals — to keep the Nebraska small grains producer profitable through enhanced productivity (hence the cultivar releases), create new breeding methods to enhance the science of plant breeding and educate the next generation of scientist plant breeders.

Dozens of Cultivars

During his tenure, he has released, co-released or is in the process of releasing 44 winter wheat, seven winter barley and 13 winter triticale cultivars. The wheat and barley cultivars are grown mainly in Nebraska and adjacent states, while the triticale cultivars are grown nationally (from New York to New Mexico). One wheat and one triticale cultivar have been licensed for sale in Turkey, the original homeland for the hard winter wheats of the Great Plains.

Giving back and looking for opportunities have always been part of the Nebraska small grains program. His cultivars have been grown on as much as 80% of Nebraska’s wheat acreage and are probably grown on about 50% of the wheat acreage today.

When it comes to science, Baenziger was an early proponent of doubled haploids to speed up breeding and now heavily uses genomic selection and molecular markers to link breeding generations and environments. He and his team also lead the largest public collaboration on hybrid wheat in the United States. In the future, high-throughput phenotyping and the needed information technology will be added to drive the small grains improvement program. In addition to his 64 cultivars, he has published 294 peer-reviewed publications, 32 proceedings and symposia papers, and 16 book chapters.

“While it is critical to release cultivars, a scientist should never lose sight of also leaving the plans (publications) of how the work was done for the next generation,” he said.

A Legacy of Pride

Baenziger is proud of the cultivars and the impact on Nebraska agriculture, but he said his legacy will be the students he helped educate and the collaborations he fostered during his career. “Programs are never bricks and mortar, but rather are always people,” he said.

He taught graduate students introductory plant breeding every year, has been the major adviser to over 60 master’s and doctoral students, and served on the supervisory committees of many others. He has also been able to work with technologists who are the “boots-on-the-ground” ambassadors for the program as well as numerous postdocs and visiting scientists.

P. Stephen Baenziger, UNL wheat breeder

UNL Small Grains Wheat Breeder Dr. P. Stephen Baenziger will retire May 3 after 35 years of service to the university. Photo by Lana Koepke Johnson, UNL Department Agronomy and Horticulture.

As for his collaborations, there have been many. Every cultivar he released was improved by the Foundation Seed Division and by seed growers/dealers of the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association. His friends in the milling and baking industry helped identify lines that the market wanted to buy.

“A land grant university is the people’s university and that means being very inclusive,” Baenziger said.

The program has germplasm exchange agreements with every major plant breeding company and universities globally, was involved in a major sharing of germplasm with Bayer Crop Science when they entered the wheat market and has collaborations with the great international centers of CIMMYT and ICARDA.

As his career winds down, Baenziger said he is extraordinarily grateful to the University of Nebraska for allowing him the freedom to be the kind of scientist he wanted to become and to the Nebraska Wheat Board for its continuous support of the small grains project. He also is grateful that the university, in the midst of a pandemic with all the economic consequences, hired Katherine Frels to be his successor.

“She is a former graduate student of the project, knows Nebraska well, and will take the program to new heights,” Baenziger said. “The future is bright.”

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Recently, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has shared a lot of information about U.S. wheat breeding programs and the tireless effort to meet the highest standards for our customers’ end-use quality needs and help farm families thrive. So far, we have described the important work of public wheat breeding programs at U.S. land grant universities and the support they get from farmers through state wheat checkoffs. Yet, many for-profit companies are doing excellent wheat variety development work and often collaborate with public breeding programs.

No Endorsement

USW does not endorse any public or private seed brands. To present a complete picture of the breeding industry, we invited several commercial seed companies to send us stories for our “Wheat Letter” blog about their efforts to increase wheat yield potential while also improving functional milling and baking quality. This post shares information from two of those companies, AgriPro® and WestBred®. Future posts will cover other commercial breeding programs. 

AgriPro Wheat

For more than 50 years AgriPro® wheat, backed by Syngenta research and development programs, has been at the forefront of innovation in wheat breeding programs. Breeding practices like genomic selection allow for early characterization for better quality and higher yields. And as AgriPro® prepares to launch hybrid wheat, farmers and end-users alike will benefit from this exciting new technology.

Hybrid Wheat

“It is all about sustainability and consistency,” said Jon Rich, seeds development operations head for North America at Syngenta. “We know farmers need high yields and end-users need stable quality year over year. Hybrid wheat will be a significant change for protecting yield and quality. Our goal with hybrid wheat is to provide consistent functional quality across all types of wheat. It also opens the door to a host of future innovations.”

Shows an AgriPro spring wheat variety growing in a field.

AP Octane from AgriPro is a spring wheat variety introduced in 2020. Photo courtesy of Syngenta.

Wheat Breeding Programs Consider End-User Needs

Hybrid wheat continues AgriPro’s longstanding commitment to the wheat industry. Research remains focused on developing varieties that provide farmers with high yield potential and end-users with the functional characteristics needed for milling and baking. With a deep understanding that consumers have a wide variety of needs, AgriPro® continues to lead the way in providing improved protein quality, gluten strength and mixing tolerance.

AgriPro® has the largest portfolio in the industry, with consistent top-performing varieties across regions. To learn more, visit www.agriprowheat.com. The photo at the top of this page courtesy of Syngenta shows a grain head from a new AgriPro® hard red spring wheat variety called AP-Octane.

AgriPro® is a registered trademark of Syngenta.

WestBred

In their wheat breeding programs, WestBred® researchers use both classic techniques and new technologies to select and breed wheat faster and more efficiently. Three examples of these enhanced technologies include:

Molecular Breeding

Also known as marker-assisted breeding, this is a tool that allows breeders search a sample of a plant’s DNA to look for markers associated with certain characteristics, such as better disease resistance or improved water absorption in milled flour.

The Seed Chipper

Using proprietary Bayer technology, breeders can obtain the DNA samples analyzed in the molecular breeding process. The chipper removes a small chip from each wheat seed for analysis without harming the seed’s ability to grow. Once breeders find the incredibly rare combination of genes they are looking for using molecular markers, they can plant a viable seed for field trials.

Doubled-Haploid

The Doubled-Haploid (DH) process accelerates genetic advancements by reducing the number of plant generations it takes to achieve a pure line. Completely homozygous lines help ensure all plants of a given variety are identical, which increases the precision of testing results and improves the quality of our products.

Through advanced breeding technologies and research capabilities, Bayer has built on its success in corn and soybean technologies to give WestBred® wheat access to the tools needed to help enhance productivity and improve yield potential.

Image shows a WestBred spring wheat growing in a field.

WB9303 hard red spring wheat is one of WestBred’s newest varieties in production. Photo courtesy of Bayer.

Wheat Technology Center

Developing better seed starts with at the Bayer Wheat Technology Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, where breeders collaborate and leverage advanced Bayer technologies to develop new solutions. Rather than having breeders and technologies spread across six locations, Bayer brought together its wheat breeding program at the Wheat Technology Center to improve the quality and speed of Bayer’s innovation in wheat.

Shows work inside the Wheat Technology Center in Twin Falls, Idaho

Wheat breeding programs at the Bayer Wheat Technology Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, promise more and better quality wheat for farmers and the world. Photo courtesy of Bayer.

WestBred® is a registered trademark of Bayer Group.


Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Northern Plains Producers
Programs Serving Southern and Central Plains Producers
Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers
Programs Serving West Coast Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva

Stories covering additional programs will be published soon.

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Recently, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has shared a lot of information about U.S. wheat researchers and breeders’ tireless efforts to meet the highest standards for our customers’ end-use quality needs and to help farm families thrive. So far, we have described the important work of public wheat breeding programs at U.S. land grant universities and the support they get from farmers through state wheat checkoffs. Yet, many for-profit companies, such as BASF and Corteva Agriscience, are doing excellent wheat variety development work and often collaborate with public breeding programs.

No Endorsement. USW does not endorse any public or private seed brands. To present a complete picture of the breeding industry, we invited several commercial seed companies to send us stories for our “Wheat Letter” blog about their efforts to increase wheat yield potential while also improving functional milling and baking quality. This post shares information from two of those companies, BASF Corp. and Corteva Agriscience. Future posts will cover other commercial breeding programs.

BASF Agricultural Solutions

Hybrid technology allows plant breeders to choose the best traits from two parent plants to produce a “hybrid” offspring containing both parents’ best attributes without genetic modification.

BASF anticipates commercially launching hybrid wheat in the mid-2020s.

At BASF, wheat breeders are producing hybrids selected from diverse germplasm for the U.S. hard red spring (HRS) growing areas of the Northern Plains and for the U.S. hard red winter (HRW) areas of the Central Plains. These hybrids will have many qualities farmers and end-users are looking for: disease resistance, higher and more stable yields, and desired end-use functionality and protein.

Seed from BASF hybrid wheat test plots is tested to ensure the new varieties meet required quality characteristics. Source Image: BASF

Quality Labs. Quality is a key component of the BASF Hybrid Wheat Project. Breeding stations feature quality laboratories, and collaboration between breeders and quality managers occurs in both the field and the lab​. Quality labs focus on ensuring hybrids meet the required milling and baking characteristics for desired end-use functionality to support a consistent supply of quality wheat. BASF uses third-party labs and strategic industry partnerships to gather feedback on end-use performance to ensure its breeders are selecting for desired characteristics.

BASF anticipates commercially launching hybrid wheat in the mid-2020s. Source Image: BASF

BASF breeders leverage diverse germplasm, technologies, and expertise from key wheat-growing regions to develop hybrids with value-added traits that address local needs and growing conditions. With a robust pipeline, each future generation of BASF hybrids will deliver further improved performance year after year.

Corteva Agriscience

With 51 years of consistent breeding and a long-term focus on the wheat market, Corteva Agriscience is developing industry-leading soft red winter (SRW) and soft white (SW) winter wheat products for farmers in the United States and other countries. Corteva – a global agriculture company that provides farmers with the most complete seed, crop protection and digital portfolio in the industry – sells wheat varieties directly to U.S. farmers through respected Pioneer® brand seed.

Corteva researchers breed for resistance to Fusarium head blight (FHB), a common wheat disease that may impact yield potential and product quality. A new variety with outstanding resistance to FHB (left) is shown next to an older, susceptible variety (right). Photo courtesy of Corteva Agriscience.

Advanced Technologies. Corteva’s plant breeding strategy leverages a “multi-crop mindset” at its local research centers, using advanced technologies for its wheat, corn and soybean breeding programs. This approach results in several benefits in the United States:

  • Breeding methodologies like doubled haploids allow Corteva to bring new, high-performing varieties to farmers quicker;
  • Breeding efficiencies are gained via genomic predictions and non-destructive, small-sample NIR testing;
  • Drones allow Corteva to characterize products during late-stage, multi-year testing more accurately. The photo above, courtesy of Corteva, is an aerial image that helps the company’s researchers evaluate plot quality, plant health and other phenotypic traits in SRW wheat trials.

With an eye on the ultimate end-user – consumers – the wheat R&D team at Corteva balances genetics with exceptional yield potential for farmers with the end-use characteristics demanded by the milling industry and international markets.

The company’s large yield-testing footprint in the Eastern United States and Canada means Corteva has year-over-year samples for quality testing. This supply of samples helps ensure that functional quality characteristics are well-characterized and stable across a wide range of growing environments. From Georgia to Ontario and Missouri to North Carolina, Corteva completes multi-year testing for characteristics such as grain hardness, protein content, flour yield, break flour and cookie diameter before new products are commercialized.

SRW wheat varieties from Corteva Agriscience are evaluated in yield trial plots before they are commercialized. Photo courtesy of Corteva Agriscience.

Breeding for disease resistance leads to stable, functional quality. A great example of this is increasing tolerance to Fusarium head blight to better manage mycotoxin – such as deoxynivalenol (DON) – levels in wheat flour and processed food products.

Listen to Corteva scientists talk about the company’s wheat breeding program here.


Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Northern Plains Producers
Programs Serving Southern and Central Plains Producers
Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

AgriPro and WestBred

Stories covering additional programs will be published soon.

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They say human civilization had its origin in ancient Mesopotamia when people discovered they could plant seeds and domesticate animals. Wheat breeding developed as the early farmers crossed different species to improve crops. Among the first were wheat’s ancient relatives.

Today, wheat breeding has become far more efficient and precise. Scientists now have a deep understanding of DNA and how individual genes control specific traits that are good for farmers and consumers.

Yet, as Kansas State University wheat breeder Dr. Allan K. Fritz (above) says, “In wheat, I think there is a purity. We are reaching back into genetics that are historic. We are taking the opportunity with the natural genes that we already have, to put those together in a package that is the healthiest and the best for the environment that we possibly can.”

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is sharing a new video production called “Researchers & Breeders: Breeding New Varieties” that features Dr. Fritz and his Kansas State University colleagues. In the video below, Dr. Fritz talks about how the journey of wheat to food tables around the world begins in a scientific facility.

Wheat breeding innovation is more important today than ever before. A growing and hungry world faces the challenge of climate change. However, by making small genetic changes, scientists can help protect wheat and other crops from rising temperatures and extreme weather while improving their attributes.

For more information on the science of wheat breeding, as well as other plant and animal breeding, please visit https://innovature.com/.

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Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.


U.S. wheat researchers and breeders work tirelessly to develop wheat varieties that meet the highest of standards, to meet our customers’ end-user needs and to help farm families thrive.

The journey of wheat to food tables around the world begins in public and commercial breeding programs. The process of continually improving varieties for farmers to grow, feed into the supply chain and, ultimately, end up in food products around the world.

Many such breeding programs across the United States are necessary because of the widely varied production constraints and wheat classes adapted for different regions. An estimated 65% of all U.S. wheat varieties across six distinct classes were developed by public university breeding programs, funded in part by state wheat commissions, royalties from the sale of public varieties, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In this post, Wheat Letter offers broad information about public university wheat breeding programs in Ohio and Maryland, with references to programs in other U.S. states growing soft red winter (SRW) wheat. Future posts will cover breeding programs in other states.

Ohio State University

Dr. Clay Sneller, Professor, Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University (OSU), has developed many new SRW cultivars in his academic career. With a focus on traditional breeding and genomic assisted breeding, Dr. Sneller works to improve yield potential, end-use quality and disease resistance. Teaming with cereals plant pathologist Dr. Pierce Paul, this OSU team is developing new SRW varieties that are resistant to the foliar wheat disease fusarium head blight (scab). The OSU program is also researching new breeding methods and ways to leverage resources across the University programs serving the Midwest.

Ohio's public wheat breeding program

Dr. Clay Sneller (left) and colleagues recording fusarium head blight scores in Ohio State University SRW test plots.

Research stations managed by OSU’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center conduct trials of new and existing SRW cultivars to get the best genetics to growers. In addition, the USDA ARS Soft Wheat Quality Laboratory in Wooster, Ohio, led by Dr. Byung Kee Baik, conducts end-quality testing of SRW varieties from OSU and other sources. The Ohio Seed Improvement Association certifies promising OSU SRW varieties and Ohio Foundation Seed grows out seed supplies. OSU also licenses new genetics to private seed companies for use by farmers in Ohio and surrounding states. OSU receives sales royalties that help fund future research and breeding.

It takes a large crew to manage a public breeding program. In the photo above, graduate students and staff from the OSU team under Dr. Sneller have just finished harvesting, cleaning and collecting seed from dozens of wheat trial plots.

The Ohio Small Grains Checkoff (OSGC) supports Dr. Sneller’s work and other OSU wheat production research. Dr. Sneller has also taken part in USW export market development activities. In 2019, for example, Dr. Sneller, Dr. Baik and OSGC shared information about SRW breeding and quality improvement with a visiting team of Brazilian flour milling managers sponsored by USW.

Ohio's public wheat breeding program

Dr. Clay Sneller (left) describing SRW variety development to a USW-sponsored team of Brazilian millers in 2019. Doug Goyings (next to Dr. Sneller), USW Past Chairman and Paulding, Ohio, wheat farmer joined the team.

University of Maryland

Wheat researchers around the world are paying attention to the work of Dr. Vijay Tiwari, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland (UMD), College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Dr. Tiwari recently received the Leadership Award from the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), representing scientists across 70 countries dedicated to advancing wheat genomics and the production of high-quality wheat. UMD noted that Tiwari has elevated UMD’s reputation in wheat genomics and “revitalized the Maryland Small Grains Breeding and Genetics (MSGBG) program. By bringing together other experts across plant science to create a unique collaboration, the program is on the verge of rolling out new varieties of wheat to serve the state of Maryland and Mid-Atlantic region while helping combat global hunger.”

Dr. Vijay Tawari - Maryland's public wheat breeding program

Wheat breeder and University of Maryland professor Vijay Tawari, PhD, leads a diverse team of scientists advancing the university’s public wheat breeding program.

In his breeding work, Dr. Tiwari draws from a UMD ”gene bank” of more than 30,000 different small grain germplasms and collaborates with MSGBG teammates including plant pathologist Dr. Nidhi Rawat, Assistant Professor of Plant Science Dr. Yiping Qi and Extension Agronomist Nicole Fiorellino. The program is actively working with the Maryland Crop Improvement Association (MCIA), the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board (MGPUB) and the Maryland Department of Agriculture to develop and commercialize new SRW varieties. MCIA manages seed production and distribution to farmers through licensed private seed companies in Maryland as well as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. As in other public breeding programs, royalties from the sale of UMD varieties help fund more research, such as Dr. Tiwari’s work developing hard red winter (HRW) wheat varieties adapted to the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region. MGPUB, a USW member state wheat commission, also funds other UMD projects focused on wheat quality and production.

Maryland's public wheat breeding program

Dr. Vijay Tawari (right) and colleagues spend many hours planning, managing and evaluating seed variety plot trials.

Other Public SRW Breeding Programs

Farmers across the eastern one-third of the United States grow SRW wheat developed by other public breeding programs, including at these universities:


Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Northern Plains Producers
Programs Serving Southern and Central Plains Producers
Programs Serving West Coast Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva
AgriPro and WestBred

Stories covering additional programs will be published soon.

Wheat harvest photo

On Feb. 24, 2021, Thomas Duffy, the Director of the Office of Agricultural Policy at the U.S. Department of State, joined the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) Joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee meeting to discuss global agriculture. The Office of Agricultural Policy promotes global food security, ensures a level playing field in agricultural trade, and advocates for agricultural biotechnology. 

 

Thomas Duffy, then Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, giving remarks at the Launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises addressing global food security.

Thomas Duffy, then Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, giving remarks at the Launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises.  Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti Copyright: FAO.

We Need Science-Based Policies

“With climate change at the center of the U.S. foreign policy, we believe that innovations that support resource-efficient and climate-smart agriculture can promote resilience and sustainable food production globally,” Duffy said.  Some of the areas which hold the greatest promise, according to Duffy, include biotechnology twinned with “Big Data” and advances in artificial intelligence. As users of these innovations, farmers play an essential role in adopting and embracing new technologies to sequester carbon to mitigate climate change further and protect their investments.

 

Still, global access to and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology is a long way from reality. On a positive note, drought-tolerant and herbicide-tolerant GE (genetically engineered) wheat has been approved for the first time in Argentina. This advancement could have huge implications for global wheat markets if successful. USW and NAWG positions on biotechnology are available online.  

 Duffy stressed the need for global engagement, saying, “It’s important for us to leverage international forums and agreements to continue to advance science-based policies globally.”

We All Have a Role

International organizations play a critical role in setting worldwide standards and policies that underpin global trade in food and agriculture and responding to global challenges, such as feeding a growing population. As the Biden Administration has made clear, “The United States is committed to the international organizations that shape our world.” 

 

U.S. farmers traveled to East Africa to learn about global food security and food aid programs.

U.S. wheat, sorghum and rice growers observed East African food aid programs in 2019.

Duffy said, “We are all proud of the work done by the World Food Programme – headed by David Beasley who, while an international civil servant, is an American citizen. WFP was the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize and I am proud to note our steadily increasing support for WFP over the last several years. We believe American leadership in and support for international organizations is crucial, and we will continue to maintain or re-establish leadership roles in order to champion advancements in food and agriculture and represent U.S. farmers, ranchers, innovators, and workers.”

  

“In communities that rely largely on agriculture for their food and income, gender inequality translates into a large gender gap in agricultural productivity, for which countries pay a high price,” Duffy continued. Previous macro-level studies by UN Women have calculated potential gross gains of $100 USD million in Malawi, $105 million in Tanzania, and $67 million in Uganda per year from closing the agricultural productivity gap between men and women.

 

Given the challenges facing global food security and agriculture, it is more important than ever that the agriculture sector performs to its full capacity, which includes enabling women as leaders at all levels in the industry, leading to more efficient, inclusive and sustainable results. 

Safeguarding the Entire System

Finally, global access to food must be protected in the face of pandemic trade restrictions, increasing levels of poverty, international conflict, and the impacts of climate change. The United Nations SOFI report warns that the global rate of hunger has continued to rise despite the goal of zero hunger by 2030, and COVID-19 may increase the number of food insecure by up to 130 million people. 

 

The United States government, Duffy stated, is working to ensure the upcoming 2021 UN Food Systems Summit addresses global food security challenges through science-based solutions for sustainability in food production methods, supply chains, and regulatory policies. 

 

Duffy concluded by saying, “To achieve true and lasting food security, we need to build and safeguard the entire food ecosystem – the land and water, the local economies, the supply chain, the farmers, and the communities that depend on one another to thrive.” 

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Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.


The journey of wheat begins in public and commercial breeding programs that maintain the process of improving varieties for farmers to grow, move into the supply chain and, ultimately, end up in food products around the world.

Public university breeding programs develop an estimated 65% of all U.S. wheat varieties, funded in part by farmers through state wheat commissions, royalties from the sale of public varieties, and USDA programs such as the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In this post, Wheat Letter offers broad information about public wheat breeding programs in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, and Wyoming. Future posts will cover breeding programs in other states.

South Dakota State University. With a primary goal to develop and release wheat varieties with high and stable yield potential and superior end-use quality for milling and baking, South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) wheat breeding program offers a strong return to farmers and downstream customers. The focus is on hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and hard white (HW) wheat development.

“Breeding is a long-term process,” said SDSU Associate Professor and Winter Wheat Breeder Sunish Kumar Sehgal. “We need to keep investing in breeding for the long-term good of the program.”

Farmers support the SDSU breeding program through wheat checkoff funding administered by the South Dakota Wheat Commission. More support comes from federal programs, seed sales and other stakeholders.

Dr. Sunish Sehgal

Dr. Karl Glover

Approximately 75% of South Dakota’s HRS planted area includes  SDSU cultivars developed under the direction of Professor Karl Glover. With additional funding from the ARS through the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, Dr. Glover is also working collaboratively with Dr. Sehgal to develop new wheat varieties that are more resistant to fusarium head scab.

University of Minnesota. Historically, Minnesota HRS wheat has highly functional protein with a high-quality baking experience. Yet importers demand more consistent functional quality and domestic millers increasingly source grain from specific cultivars best suited for producing their products. That is why the University of Minnesota (UMN) HRS wheat breeding program is developing new disease-resistant, high-yielding cultivars with an increasing emphasis on improved end-use quality.

“Minnesota growers are by far the most progressive people I have ever worked with in terms of weighing economic, environmental and consumer demands,” said Charlie Vogel, CEO of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, which supports the UMN spring wheat breeding and genetics program led by Professor James Anderson. “They look beyond the farm gates, to a bigger picture of the customers we serve around the world.”

Dr. James Anderson. University of Minnesota photo.

Dr. Anderson said a comprehensive genetic and breeding approach is necessary to respond to farmer and end-use customer needs. UMN genetic studies identify wheat chromosomes and DNA markers that influence disease resistance and grain quality. Markers in turn help the breeder identify the best lines to work with, and the UMN team tests cultivars for commercial viability in field trials across the state.

North Dakota State University (NDSU) is home to three HRS, durum and HRW breeding programs that reflect the legacy of North Dakota wheat farmers to produce wheat that “provides special, inherent quality attributes that cannot be sourced elsewhere,” according to the North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC). The commission contributes about 40 percent of its budget to research, prioritizing investment in customer needs for end-use quality.

NDSU test plot, Carrington, N.D. NDSU photo.

The NDSU durum breeding program is the largest in the country, led by Dr. Elias Elias and a team of technicians and graduate students. The goal: maximize return to the farmer while yielding excellent quality durum to domestic and international markets. The majority – 90% or more – of durum planted in North Dakota are NDSU varieties.

Dr. Elias Elias, NDSU durum breeder.

North Dakota produces more HRS wheat than any other state. The NDSU HRS breeding program makes high end-use milling and baking quality a priority while advancing agronomic traits. Dr. Andrew Green, who leads the HRS breeding program with his team of technicians, said: “Protein quality is essential to maintain high HRS demand so our program emphasizes developing balanced varieties that are profitable for producers and valued by end-users.”

The photo at the top of this page is a demonstration trial Dr. Green created that includes every HRS variety developed by NDSU over more than 100 years.

Dr. G. Francois Marais breeds HRW wheat varieties at NDSU. This program focuses on developing new varieties that are adapted to the northern Plains with improved winter-hardiness, disease resistance, yield and processing quality.

NDSU varieties selected for commercialization are produced through NDSU’s North Dakota Foundation Seedstocks program and marketed by the North Dakota Crop Improvement Association.

Montana State University. Montana has a wide range of farming ecosystems so the Montana State University (MSU) wheat breeding program tries to producing HRS, HRW, HW and durum varieties adapted to meet the challenges of these conditions. MSU bread wheat varieties provide exceptional milling, dough and baking characteristics, while durum varieties meet the demanding standards of the world’s best pasta producers.

Professor Phil Bruckner heads up MSU’s HRW breeding program and is very familiar with export market quality standards. In 2017, he joined a USW Wheat Quality Improvement Team to Taiwan and Thailand to discuss which quality characteristics end users value the most. Assistant Research Professor Jason Cook currently manages MSU’s spring wheat breeding and serves as one of the directors along with Dr. Bruckner of the MSU Cereal Quality Laboratory. Dr. Cook worked closely with former MSU spring wheat breeder Dr. Luther Talbert who left a legacy of producing high-quality HRS varieties when he retired late in 2019. In addition, the growing interest in the use of HW wheat for the Asian noodle market has instituted noodle quality evaluation.

MSU HRW wheat breeder Dr. Phil Bruckner.

Over the years, MSU breeders developed hundreds of durum varietal lines and continue to do so. Dr. Mike Giroux, who heads MSU’s plant genetics program, is also breeding new durum lines. The first variety from that program, a high-yielding durum with desirable pasta quality traits including semolina extraction, pasta firmness and color, is now in the field with the MSU Foundation Seed program to increase seed stock for commercialization in 2022.

Through the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, Montana farmers invest over $2 million every year in wheat and barley research at MSU and other institutions.

University of Wyoming. Because of Wyoming’s relatively small wheat production area, HRW and HW varieties developed by neighboring public breeding programs are tested at University of Wyoming (UW) agricultural experiment stations. With checkoff funds administered by the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission (WWMC), farmers created the Crop Research Foundation of Wyoming in 2012 to make sure they would always have wheat seed sources that perform well in Wyoming’s high-altitude, short-growing season.

University of Wyoming wheat field trial.

Under this program, UW screens and develops elite HRW and HW lines from Colorado State University, Montana State University and the University of Nebraska. One example, cited by WWMC Executive Director Keith Kennedy, is “Spur,” a solid stem HRW variety developed at Montana State University that helps reduce damage from the wheat stem sawfly pest. Spur was licensed by the foundation in 2017 and sub-licensed to a private seed company for sale outside Wyoming. Kennedy said farmers seeded Spur on about 5% of Wyoming’s wheat area for the 2020/21 crop.


Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Southern and Central Plains Producers
Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers
Programs Serving West Coast Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva
AgriPro and WestBred

Stories covering additional programs will be published soon.

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Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.


There is a wide range of U.S. public and commercial breeding programs working to develop wheat classes and varieties adapted to the production constraints in different regions while meeting customer end-use needs. An estimated 65% of all U.S. wheat varieties across six distinct classes were developed by public university breeding programs, funded in part by state wheat commissions, royalties from the sale of public varieties, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In this post, Wheat Letter offers broad information about public university wheat breeding programs in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. Future posts will cover breeding programs in other states.

Texas A&M. With support from research grants from the Texas Wheat Producers Board (TWPB), Texas A&M University puts a major focus on projects aimed at enhancing end-use wheat quality to produce a product with more functionality for domestic and overseas customers. For example, TWPB points to the recent development of two new Texas A&M winter wheat varieties that performed well with fewer inputs, decreasing farm financial burdens while showing exceptional milling and baking characteristics.

Dr. Amir Ibrahim is a professor and the project leader of the Texas A&M Small Grains Breeding program. He manages wheat cultivar development for South and Central Texas among other responsibilities. Dr. Jackie Rudd, Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder in the Texas Panhandle is also working to develop better wheat varieties for breadmaking and farmers alike. An associate research scientist in the AgriLife Cereal Quality Lab and other specialized researchers are part of the Texas A&M wheat team.

Texas A&M Wheat Breeding

Texas A&M geneticists Dr. Shuyu Liu (second from left) and Dr. Chenggen Chu (right) are using doubled haploid plants to shorten the time to develop genetically pure lines in a traditional winter wheat breeding scheme.

Oklahoma State University. Wheat Improvement research in Oklahoma is driven by an interdisciplinary team of Oklahoma State University (OSU) scientists charged with developing highly adapted winter wheat cultivars with marketable grain quality, in partnership with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission (OWC) and the Oklahoma Wheat Research Foundation. Dr. Brett Carver directs the program as OSU Wheat Genetics Chair.

OWC Executive Director Mike Schulte says the wheat genetics program is committed to excellence in creating varieties to meet the specific needs of Oklahoma wheat producers and the milling and baking industries. OSU varieties are sold to farmers through Oklahoma Genetics, Inc., a non-profit organization directed by Oklahoma farmers.

“OSU wheat varieties, thanks in large part to significant investment by producers through the check-off OWC manages, have led the state in planted area every year since 2010,” said Dr. Carver. “In addition, the top planted varieties from OSU almost always appear on preferred variety lists publicized by the U.S. domestic milling industry over the past five years. The emphasis by the OSU Wheat Improvement Team is, and will continue to be, on a quality yield, not just yield alone.”

OSU wheat genetics lead Dr. Brett Carver (right) in 2019 discussed cross breeding techniques to select  for functional quality in hard red winter wheat with British officials at the OSU research facilities.

Kansas State University. The wheat breeding team at Kansas State University (K-State), led by Dr. Allan Fritz in Manhattan, Kan. and Dr. Guorong Zhang at K-State’s Agricultural Research Center in Hays, Kan., has produced the most widely planted varieties in Kansas in nine of the past 10 years through the Kansas Wheat Alliance.

The world-renowned Wheat Genetics Resource Center (WGRC) has established a national and international network to conduct and coordinate genetic studies in wheat. Located in the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, the state’s single-largest, farmer investment in wheat research, the WGRC has also been recently designated as a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. This is the first I/UCRC focusing on plant sciences. The main K-State breeding team works with the WGRC on genomic mapping and marker-assisted breeding. Other cooperators include the USDA-ARS Hard Wheat Quality Laboratory and wheat programs in the Plant Pathology and Grain Science Departments. Some germplasm lines are also released in conjunction with USDA’s hard winter wheat genetics program.

There is tremendous producer support in the state and region for K-State’s wheat varieties and breeding program. Generous funding for its efforts comes from the Kansas Wheat Commission. Wheat quality is also a priority. Varieties tested for two years and earmarked for release are entered in the Wheat Quality Council (WQC) Milling and Baking Test Program to ensure the varieties meet WQC milling and baking standards. Grain Craft has recently moved its Wheat Quality Lab to the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, which completes the missing piece in the puzzle in the facility, from variety development through end-use quality testing.

In addition, in 2020, the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture awarded K-State a $1 million grant to establish the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) Winter Wheat Breeding Innovation Hub. K-State will lead the effort to evaluate research findings from several IWYP projects that contribute to “significantly improve” wheat yields.

The research team led by Dr. Allan Fritz (above) in Manhattan, Kan., and Dr. Guorong Zhang at K-State’s Agricultural Research Center in Hays, Kan., has produced the most widely planted wheat varieties in Kansas in nine of the past 10 years.

Colorado State University. Thanks to help from Colorado farmers through the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, the Colorado State University (CSU) wheat breeding program has built a reputation for success. The goal is to develop varieties that are adapted to Colorado’s unique growing conditions but also have excellent end-use quality to meet milling and baking needs. In 2019, Wheat Quality Lab Manager John Stromberger, now retired Wheat Breeder Dr. Scott Haley, and Extension Agronomist Jerry Johnson, reported on the quality of CSU trial varieties and encouraged producers to carefully consider planting agronomically acceptable varieties with better quality. CSU wheat breeding will continue under the direction of Dr. Esten Mason.

The Colorado Wheat Research Foundation (CWRF) works hand in hand with CSU to help develop and distribute new wheat varieties. As the university develops new varieties, CWRF takes ownership and works with eligible certified seed growers. CWRF collects royalties for certified seed that supply funding for more CSU wheat research. These varieties are sold under the brand name PlainsGoldTM.

A portion of funding for wheat breeding and research at Colorado State University comes from the sales of public wheat varieties.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Nebraska Wheat Board supports research and breeding programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and USDA-ARS efforts to improve agronomic performance for producers, and end-use quality characteristics for millers, bakers and consumers. Dr. Stephen Baenziger heads the UNL small grains breeding program and says the work is highly dependent on a wide range of researchers and public and private support.

For example, Dr. Baenziger has spent several years studying hybridization of wheat in partnership with Dr. Ibrahim of Texas A&M. Ibrahim and Baenziger have tested more than 600 lines of hybrid wheat varieties in Nebraska and Texas. They are now developing the necessary knowledge base, germplasm and enhanced trait pools or patterns from these lines to support the development of hybridized wheat.

The team’s newest project, “Plant breeding partnerships: Continuing to develop and validate the tools for hybrid wheat,” is supported by a $650,000 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant.

UNL Wheat Breeder

Dr. Stephen Baenziger heads the University of Nebraska – Lincoln small grains breeding program.


Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Northern Plains Producers
Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers
Programs Serving West Coast Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva
AgriPro and WestBred

Stories covering additional programs will be published soon.

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By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy

New breeding technologies are forecast to offer many promises for consumers, producers and the environment. Plant Breeding Innovations (PBI) is a term defined by the International Seed Federation as, “the constantly evolving ideas and practices which enhance the field of plant breeding. Today’s innovations in plant breeding are developed using sophisticated science and technologies including cell biology, gene mapping and marker-assisted breeding.”

Benefits

Unlike GMOs, gene editing technologies such as CRISPR and TALENs represent a breeding method in which precise changes are made to an organism’s genome, changes that many of which may also occur naturally in nature. These technologies do not require insertion of a “foreign” gene into the plant variety being developed.

Gene editing and other PBIs show excellent potential to improve food safety and affordability. Calyxt is a commercial organization that has developed a gene edited soybean offering the health benefits of zero trans-fat and reduced saturated fat oil. The company is also developing a high fiber wheat variety that could help many consumers meet recommended dietary fiber needs. Gene editing can also assist in reducing food waste. Intrexon (now known as Precigen) used this technology to create non-browning lettuce, which would extend its shelf life.

Producers are expected to see economic and environmental benefits from these innovations by using fewer crop protection inputs to grow more food on the same amount of land leading to less environmental impact – something an increasing number of consumers have shown they care about as well.

Global Regulations

Many countries are formulating policies on these new technologies. In mid-May the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) released revised rules on biotechnology. Under these rules, USDA stated that “gene edited products may be exempt from strict regulation so long as no “plant pest” is present, and the products could be produced through traditional breeding methods.”  Two other regulators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are expected to release their regulations in the future.

Japan has stated it will not label or regulate genome edited products as genetically engineered products. Some other countries that have put in process methods of regulating these new technologies are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Canada, with various ways of monitoring, such as consultative process or trait-based approaches. Alternately, the European Court of Justice ruled in June 2018 that gene editing would be regulated like GMOs.

To ensure that these new breeding techniques can fulfill their potential, wide-ranging benefits, governments should rely on sound science to develop policies. If unproven fears lead to highly regulated policies, the risk of disruption in international trade will be increased unnecessarily.

Collaboration

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) regularly discuss breeding technologies and track how various governments are planning to regulate those products through our joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee. Any gene edited wheat varieties are expected to be several years away from commercialization. During that time, USW and NAWG will continue to work hand in hand with all sectors of the wheat value chain to ensure growers have access to technology and that our international customers can continue to count on access to the highest quality wheat in the world.

More information about how USW and NAWG support new plant breeding techniques  through science-based policies can be found here.