We are at an exciting time in wheat — especially because we have access to more knowledge and information than I had when I started out in 2002. It’s exploding.
Wheat has come of age in terms of genetic and genomic technologies that can assist breeders. These tools can be applied to a range of traits we select for. In durum wheat, fusarium head blight (FHB) resistance is still our biggest of challenges, but these technologies promise to accelerate the development of varieties with improved resistance. For the last 10-odd years we’ve worked hard to integrate genetic resistance into commercial cultivars.
We’re throwing everything we have at the FHB problem and thinking outside of the box. That speaks to the integrated approach we use for breeding — germplasm, disease nurseries, and genomic tools. The genetics of resistance is complex, and we know it wouldn’t be easy, but we’re getting there. That’s how anything comes of age — learning from the past and emerging all the stronger for it.
We all come of age in our professions. It can be hard to pinpoint a moment when you transition into professional adulthood, but for me it was when our durum wheat breeding program released the variety “CDC Precision” just a few short years ago.
Releasing a new variety is always satisfying, but it’s when that variety gets noticed by producers that I really feel good about it. When you start seeing it in fields and getting good feedback from producers in terms of its productivity and you hear good things from millers and buyers, well, that’s the ultimate success to me.
When I started as a breeder 16 years ago, only a couple durum varieties had been released in the history of the Crop Development Centre. We very quickly turned that around and in 16 years have released 14 new varieties of durum.
Our recipe for success is a combination of things — our excellent infrastructure, our germplasm, and our people. Our success is also the result of the CDC’s unique makeup. We are a unit within the Department of Plant Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan.
This gives me access to knowledge and expertise — physiologists, statisticians and pathologists, all under one roof. I’m able to leverage a whole range of expertise that other breeding centres may not have access to — and also leverage international relationships. As a part of the Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, my team and I helped crack the genomes of three wheat species and open the door to unlocking the potential this crop has.
Combining that with the cutting-edge genomic tools we now have at our disposal, we are on the brink of transforming wheat as a crop.
Stay tuned for big things to come.