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From Alberta Wheat Commission, Feb 2013:

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”

-Thomas Jefferson-

Two new winter wheat varieties were recently registered and the news is being welcomed by the Alberta Wheat Commission which represents Alberta’s 11,000 wheat farmers. The development of new wheat cultivars was crucial for the establishment of the crop on the Canadian Prairies by the early homesteaders, but cultivar research and development remains essential to keep Alberta wheat competitive in the global marketplace.

The early 1800’s were precarious years for Alberta’s first wheat farmers, and early homesteaders struggled to survive extreme weather conditions and terrible crop losses. Many different European wheat cultivars were tried, but winter varieties did not survive the harsh Canadian winters well, and many spring varieties matured too late for the short growing season. The development and distribution of the Marquis spring wheat cultivar in 1909 made wheat production a more viable enterprise for prairie farmers and today wheat has become one of Alberta’s most important agricultural crops.

Modern wheat producers have many different wheat cultivars to choose from. Many farmers prefer to grow spring wheat, which is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall while others like to grow winter wheat, which is planted in the late summer-early fall and harvested in mid-summer. Major advances in equipment design, agronomic practices, and the development of disease resistant, agronomically superior varieties is helping to ensure that Alberta wheat is amongst the best in the world.

The two recently registered winter wheat cultivars were developed by Dr. Rob Graf at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research Centre and were registered on November 1, 2012 as Emerson and AAC Gateway. Both varieties are high yielding, high quality cultivars, but their exceptional disease resistance sets them apart from other winter wheat cultivars. Emerson is the first variety registered in Canada that has been given a “resistant” rating to fusarium head blight, a disease that has cost producers in western Canada well over $1 billion since the mid-1990’s.

“These two new varieties will be a real asset to winter wheat growers in some areas of the western provinces,” said John Hopkins, a southern Alberta wheat farmer. “Plant breeding is a long-term process that needs ongoing support. It is essential for producers to have access to improved cultivars and to keep up with the latest agronomic practices in order to be competitive in the global marketplace.”

With the growing world population, annual worldwide production of wheat is anticipated to have to increase by more than 30 percent over the next 40 years, however the number of acres of farmland will likely decrease. In other words, farmers will need to grow more wheat on less land in order to feed the world. One of the ways they can do this is by planting better cultivars that are both higher yielding and more resistant to biotic stresses such as plant diseases and insects.

The two new varieties will provide winter wheat farmers with more choices when it comes time to plant next fall, but research is ongoing to find even more new and improved varieties of wheat to help feed the growing world population. “Innovative research is the key to keeping Alberta’s wheat farmers competitive,” said Rick Istead, General Manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission. “Developing and introducing new varieties which help producers become more profitable and better able to meet the needs of our customers is fundamental to our long-term success.”

For more information about the Alberta Wheat Commission, visit www.albertawheat.com.