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Many farmers celebrate the end of a long growing season with a well-earned sunny getaway. For very different reasons, Canadian cereal breeders also frequently head south, or at least ship their breeding material to foreign locales. The work carried out in international destinations allows them to develop new high-quality crop varieties in a timely manner.

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Over the past two years, University of Calgary plant breeder Marcus Samuel has demonstrated impressive drought-tolerant proof-of-concept improvements in wheat using an innovative, non-GMO breeding technique. The project has received $398,000 in funding from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Results Driven Agricultural Research, the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, SaskWheat and the Manitoba Crop Alliance. Samuel hopes to bring these same drought tolerance gains to elite wheat varieties nearing commercialization.

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As drought ravaged crops across the Prairies this past summer, it was once again made abundantly clear farmers can’t control the weather. On the Prairies, crop losses in dry years can range from 30 to more than 50 per cent of average yield.

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Launched by the Wheat Initiative, an international research organization, the 10+ Wheat Genome Project has unlocked the genetic code of 15 wheat varieties. Curtis Pozniak, USask professor and director of the institution’s Crop Development Centre, led the project, which was funded by numerous organizations including the Alberta Wheat Commission and carried out by scientists in several countries.

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With early snowfalls having impacted harvests in recent years, the time couldn’t be better for Dean Spaner’s wheat breeding program to hit its stride. A University of Alberta professor and plant breeder, Spaner focuses on bringing high-yielding but early-maturing wheat varieties to market. It’s a natural fit for the northernmost wheat breeding program on the continent.

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Internationally known for his work, Curtis Pozniak is a wheat breeder and professor at the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre. His busy schedule incorporates field work, tours, multiple global research projects as well as speaking engagements. Pozniak recently took time out fro his work to talk with GrainsWest about the latest scientific advancements in variety creation.

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