By Ashley Davenport and Ben Potter
A $3.4 Million Breeding Investment
A University of Florida researcher is leading a new project he hopes will increase worldwide wheat potential. Agronomy assistant professor Md Ali Babar and fellow researchers ultimately want to increase the so-called “harvest index” (the fraction of above-ground biomass that is actual grain) from 45% to 60%.
“This will increase wheat yield and improve food security for a growing population,” he says.
Babar says there is a tremendous need to learn more about how small grain crops, including wheat, respond to high temperatures and variable water stress environments.
Yields will have to double in the next 30 years to avoid a “major food crisis,” he says. That’s a 1.8% increase annually, but current yield gains are just half of that. The researchers are specifically looking at traits as they relate to the harvest index.
The research is funded by a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which awarded several institutions a total of $3.4 million to research the development of new wheat varieties with better adaptation to different geographies and environmental conditions.
“These grants help support agricultural researchers developing new wheat varieties with greater yield and help us improve global collaboration on wheat research,” says Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director.
Putting Drones to Work for Wheat
Kansas State University has received a $975,000 grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to use drones to improve wheat breeding efforts. The grant gives scientists a deeper understanding of in-field conditions so they can improve wheat breeding programs. K-State already uses drones to collect data from plots in Kansas, Mexico and India.
Drones can collect an unprecedented amount of data, says Jesse Poland, project director and assistant professor of plant pathology and agronomy at K-State.
“Perhaps the greatest bottleneck currently in plant breeding and genetics is effectively generating precision measurements of plant characteristics in the field,” he says. “The goal of this project is to deliver in-season yield predictions by building models that combine genetic information from DNA sequencing and crop physiology we will gather from UAV measurements on tens of thousands of breeding lines.”
Plant breeding is a numbers game. “If we can use new technologies like remote sensing with these low-cost UAVs, then we provide breeders with the tools to look through many more candidate varieties and increase the chances of finding ones that are really excellent and can become the next best varieties to release to farmers,” Poland says.
The grant will fund this project for three years.
Lower Acres in 2017?
In 2016, many wheat farmers saw ugly production circumstances—now they’re trying to help the problem by reducing acreage.
Craig VanDyke of Top Third Ag told “U.S. Farm Report” host Tyne Morgan the rumors of drought are not as concerning to him as the acreage story.
“We need to drastically reduce acreage in order to find ourselves competitive globally price-wise,”
Higher soybean prices could be a motivation to reduce wheat acres and move them to soybeans.
VanDyke has talked to a few producers who are growing soybeans in Montana for the first time.
“If you’re going to find a rally in wheat prices, you need to focus on the spreads, and spreads start to give signs that maybe this market can start moving out,” he says.