Through advancements in agriculture and the development of new crop varieties, humans have historically strived to meet the needs of a growing population and to develop a safe, reliable and sustainable food supply. How will we continue to meet this challenge, while dealing with a changing climate and threats of new pests and diseases? The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) affirms that continued innovation is paramount to the future of agriculture and to our shared quality of life. Plant breeders including those who develop new wheat varieties will need access to available tools to responsibly meet these challenges.
The fundamental practices of plant breeders have not changed over time, ASTA notes. Plant breeders still select the best plants for their desired goal, which may be higher yields, disease resistance, improved end use characteristics or better nutrition. However, the tools and information that plant breeders use have evolved, allowing them to take advantage of the growing understanding of plant science and genetics. Today, with the capability to sequence plant genomes and the ability to link a specific gene or genes to a specific characteristic, breeders are able to more precisely make improvements in plant varieties. Breeders can also make specific changes in existing plant genes in ways similar to changes that could occur in nature.
Innovative breeding methods include a variety of tools that mimic processes that have been used in traditional breeding since the early 20th century. ASTA reports that breeders may opt to use the newer methods rather than classical breeding to reach the same endpoint more accurately and efficiently. As with more traditional breeding methods, some of the newer methods focus on using a plant’s own genes, or genes from the plant’s wild relatives, to create a desired characteristic, such as disease resistance or drought tolerance. It is a more precise way of creating genetic variation — a longtime goal of plant breeders. To read more about innovations in wheat breeding, visit https://www.heartlandinnovations.com/about-us/kansas-wheat-innovation-center.
It is important to note that seeds are comprehensively regulated by USDA. A key feature of the plant breeding process is extensive testing and evaluation starting early in the process and continuing until the final product is commercially available. These tests are based on procedures breeders have used for many decades to create new plant varieties that are safe to grow and eat.
The world’s farmers and food manufacturers understand that America’s agriculture producers face the very real challenge of providing for a growing population so future generations have access to the same diverse, nutritious and high quality food we enjoy today. ASTA believes improved breeding methods will help meet these needs more efficiently and economically through agriculture practices that preserve natural resources and biodiversity. These new breeding methods are accessible to both public and commercial plant breeders in developed and developing countries, and they can be used across all agriculturally important crops, including food, feed, fiber and fuel crops.