Wheat in the Big Apple
On the streets in the Big Apple this fall—at the intersection of Water and Fulton Streets, to be exact—a wheat field sprouted. No, it wasn't a vast expanse of the cereal crop, but it is the closest most people in New York City will ever get to a wheat field. The goal of the Wheat Foods Council's Urban Wheat Field Experience was to portray the life cycle of the wheat kernel with a field, full-size combine, functioning mill, break-baking station and nutrition lab to educate people about the importance of wheat. The Urban Wheat Field showcased green wheat to illustrate that wheat spends 90% of its life cycle green as opposed to gold, which is the color most Americans associate with wheat.
To create the field, nearly one-half million wheat kernels were planted in 300 4'x4' pallets. The interlocking pallets formed a wheat field with a pedestrian path running through it. Farmers led tours telling how, where and when wheat is grown, sharing facts about consumption and wheat's impact on food prices and the economy. Milling experts spoke about turning kernels into flour and operating a mill and invited people to hand-grind wheat flour. Chefs conducted bread- and cookie-baking demonstrations and described flour's transformation into wheat foods. Dietitians explained the nutritional properties of wheat foods, the differences between whole wheat and enriched wheat flour and how to read nutrition labels.
Nearly 8,000 people visited the field, consuming approximately 500 loaves of fresh-baked bread and thousands of cookies during the three-day event.
Watch Out, Ug99
Help is on the way for wheat and other crops to resist diseases such as Ug99 in the form of wild grass plants called Brachypodium distachyon. Ug99 is a form of stem rust that threatens 80% of the world's wheat crop.
The plants, developed by David Garvin, USDA–Agricultural Research Service plant geneticist, are the first recombinant inbred line (RIL) population of Brachypodium. This means offspring of each line always have the same genes, permitting scientists to more efficiently explore the genetic and molecular basis of a range of traits in order to obtain accurate information on the location and number of genes that control a specific trait. It also gives scientists the ability to repeat experiments as often as necessary.
It took Garvin more than three years to develop the Brachypodium RIL technology. The research involved crosses and repeatedly growing the entire population to maturity to fix the genetic makeup of each plant. Garvin has additional RIL populations nearing completion.
New Fungicide Portfolio
BASF's wheat portfolio now includes TwinLine, a cereal fungicide that is powered by pyraclostrobin, the active ingredient in Headline fungicide and a unique triazole. The fungicide is specifically designed to control aggressive wheat diseases, including stripe rust, with two modes of action and curative activity. U.S. field trials during the 2008 season showed a yield increase of about 10 bu. per acre when compared with untreated plots. Labeled for use in wheat, barley, oats, rye and triticale, TwinLine is designed to be applied immediately after flag leaf emergence at a rate of 7 fl. oz. to 9 fl. oz. per acre with a maximum of two applications per season.
Biotech Trait Can Improve Crop Efficiency
Vic Knauf believes there is great potential in solving some of the agronomic problems that plague wheat producers. Knauf is the chief scientific officer at Arcadia Biosciences, a Davis, Calif., company that is developing Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) technology in wheat.
"It varies by crop and location, but generally, 50% of the nitrogen farmers apply to the ground, the plant will never use,” Knauf says. So Knauf's company has fine-tuned technology developed by the University of Alberta, Canada, to develop and test NUE in cereal crops.
Researchers have eight seasons of data, indicating farmers can achieve the same canola yield with the NUE trait using one-third the nitrogen. Early research in rice shows that with NUE technology, a half-rate of nitrogen still results in higher tiller count and increased panicle numbers.
Arcadia has developed and licensed NUE technology to a number of companies in several crops, including Monsanto Company for canola and Pioneer Hi-Bred International for corn. For wheat, the challenge of adopting biotech is greater, partly because the bulk of the nation's wheat research occurs at land-grant universities and USDA–Agricultural Research Service facilities. Therefore, biotech research companies like Arcadia must develop licensing agreements with each institution in order to recoup their research investment.