Author Archive

New study reveals how controlling wheat hormones can cool hot crops

By Katie Lutz

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CIMMYT) — Reductions of spike-ethylene, a plant-aging hormone, could increase wheat yields by 10 to 15 percent in warm locations, according to a recent study published in New Phytologist journal.

Ethylene is usually produced by plants at different developmental stages and can cause a wide range of negative effects on plant growth and development.

Ravi Valluru observes wheat trials in the field at CIMMYT El Batán.

When hot weather hits a wheat field an increase in ethylene levels can lessen the amount of grains produced on ears or spikes by limiting the export of carbohydrates to pollen development.

“It was important to understand how different wheat varieties show yield responses to both ethylene gradients and ethylene inhibitors,” explained Ravi Valluru, wheat physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), adding that the research was primarily done in northwestern Mexico using both landraces and modern lines under heat-stressed field conditions.

Valluru is part of a collaborative team of scientists from CIMMYT and Britain’s Lancaster University investigating ways to reduce ethylene production in wheat plants as a means to improve yields in hot weather conditions.

The team treated a diverse set of wheat varieties with silver nitrate, an inorganic compound traditionally used for medicinal and other purposes and that has been shown to control ethylene levels in plants.

“We have known for a long time that ethylene has negative effects on crop yields, but efforts have been meager so far to bring this knowledge into breeding programs,” Valluru said. “It’s very exciting that CIMMYT has initiated the important steps toward bringing the ethylene story to wheat breeding through this project.”

The study has revealed that different wheat varieties responded differently to ethylene and ethylene inhibitors. That’s good news, because breeders can then select the appropriate lines for growing in warmer climates to incorporate into breeding programs.

According to Valluru, breeders have selected for high yield over many years that has inadvertently lowered ethylene expression in modern, improved varieties.

“Being a gas, ethylene is a kind of ‘ethereal’ plant growth regulator, but when produced at higher levels, has a major impact on grain setting and root growth,” said Matthew Reynolds, head of the wheat physiology team at CIMMYT and co-author of the study. “Understanding it and determining its genetic bases are significant steps forward, and we can expect that this knowledge will be applied in breeding.”

Crop sensors sharpen nitrogen management for wheat in Pakistan

By Abdul Hamid, Ansaar Ahmed and Imtiaz Hussain

Wheat researcher with Green Seeker at Wheat Research Institute Sakrand, Sind Province, Pakistan. Photo: Sarfraz Ahmed

ISLAMABAD (CIMMYT) – Pakistani and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) scientists are working with wheat farmers to test and promote precision agriculture technology that allows the farmers to save money, maintain high yields and reduce the environmentally harmful overuse of nitrogen fertilizer.

Wheat is planted on more than 9 million hectares in Pakistan each year. Of this, 85 percent is grown under irrigation in farming systems that include several crops.

Farmers may apply nearly 190 kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare of wheat, placing a third of this when they sow and the remainder in one-to-several partial applications during the crop cycle. Often, the plants fail to take up and use all of the fertilizer applied. More precise management of crop nutrients could increase farmers’ profits by saving fertilizer with no loss of yield, as well as reducing the presence of excess nitrogen that turns into greenhouse gases.

Precision nutrient management means applying the right source of plant nutrients at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. CIMMYT is working across the globe to create new technologies that are locally adapted to help farmers apply the most precise dosage of fertilizer possible at the right time, so it is taken up and used most effectively by the crop.

CIMMYT and the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) have developed the application “urea calculator” for cell phones. In this process, a Green Seeker handheld crop sensor quickly assesses crop vigor and provides readings that are used by the urea calculator to furnish an optimal recommendation on the amount of nitrogen fertilizer the wheat crop needs.

Tests with the crop sensor/calculator combination on more than 35 farmer fields during 2016 in Pakistan results showed that 35 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare could be saved without any loss in grain yield. This technology is being evaluated and demonstrated in Pakistan as part of the CIMMYT-led Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP), supported by the United States Agency for International Development in collaboration with Pakistan partners.

CIMMYT recently began work in four provinces of Pakistan, providing Green Seekers and training to AIP research, extension and private partners. Fifty-five specialists in all took part in training events held at the Wheat Research Institute Sakrand, Sind Province; the Rice Research Institute KSK, Punjab Province; and the Model Farm Service Center, Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Training and new partnerships will help national partners to demonstrate and disseminate sustainable farming practices to wheat farmers throughout Pakistan.

This story was originally published on

WHEAT Independent Steering Committee welcomes two new members

The WHEAT Independent Steering Committee welcomes two new members in 2017, Ximena Lopez and Ron DePauw.

López graduated with a food industry engineering degree from University of Santiago, Chile, and obtained her Master of Science at Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain. López worked as a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization and served as the national representative for the International Cereal Chemists. López has a variety of experiences, in Quality Control and Flour Treatment and Quality Assurance Systems, specialized in cereal fortification in the American Institute of Bread (AIB.) López is the author of over 20 scientific publications and 100 journal articles. Currently, her research is focused on biotechnology and the development of functional food based cereals.

DePauw is an internationally recognized scientist, who has devoted his life to reduce business risk for producers, to meet consumers’ requests for safe and nutritious food, to improve end-use suitability factors and to contribute to an overall betterment of society and farm economy. DePauw has published 228 peer reviewed manuscripts, 10 book chapters with another “in press”, and close to 1000 miscellaneous publications including conference abstracts. He has received numerous awards including the Order of Canada, Saskatchewan Order of Merit, Gold Medal from Professional Institute of Canada which has only been awarded 40 times to someone in the field of science, and an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Saskatchewan.

As part of the Independent Steering Committee, the two will help set WHEAT priorities and implement and review research-for-development. Congratulations and welcome, Ximena and Ron!

Containing the menace of wheat rusts

Wheat showing symptoms of stem rust (Puccinia graminis), in this case the virulent Ug99 race. The reddish brown pustules contain masses of urediospores, and may occur on both sides of the leaves, on the stems, and on the spikes. These pustules coalesce during heavy infections, and the disease also causes chlorosis and tissue death. This wheat is being grown, and will be assessed for symptoms, as part of an ongoing screening program at the Njoro research station in Kenya. The station is part of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), which is working in partnership with CIMMYT to identify sources of resistance to Ug99. This strain of the disease, which emerged in Uganda in 1999, is already endemic in the area, making it possible to use Njoro as a testing ground for wheats from all over the world. More than 30,000 wheat lines are now being screened each year. For more information on the disease, see CIMMYT's Wheat Doctor: For more on CIMMYT's ongoing work on Ug99, see the following e-news stories: 2010, "Planting for the future: New rust resistant wheat seed on its way to farmers": October 2009, "From Cairo to Kabul: Rust resistant wheat seed just in time": December 2008, "Report from the field: Wheat stem rust resistance screening at Njoro, Kenya": December 2006, "Threat level rising": September 2005, "The World’s Wheat Crop is Under Threat from New Disease": Photo credit: Petr Kosina/CIMMYT.

Wheat showing symptoms of stem rust, in this case the virulent Ug99 race.

In the 2014/15 cropping season, Ethiopia produced 4.23 million tons of wheat grain on 1.7 million hectares of land, with an increase of more than 2 million tons since 2007/8. Wheat is an incredibly important crop in Ethiopia and significantly contributes to the livelihood of smallholder farmers and urban consumers.

Nevertheless, wheat production and productivity are constantly being threatened by new emerging diseases, in particular, wheat rust diseases. In response, there have been a number of efforts in the research and development area to combat these threats.

According to the introduction of Containing the Menace of Wheat Rusts: Institutionalized Interventions and Impacts, “This book documents ICARDA’s experience in rapid deployment of rust resistant wheat varieties through bilateral and multilateral projects in general and the ICARDA-EIAR project entitled Deployment of rust resistant varieties for ensuring food security in Ethiopia in particular highlighting the framework of fast track variety testing and release and accelerated seed production to mitigate and/or control wheat rusts.”

To learn more about efforts at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas(ICARDA) to combat and contain wheat rust diseases in Ethiopia read Containing the Menace of Wheat Rusts: Institutionalize Interventions and Impacts here.

Iran and CIMMYT join forces to boost wheat farming productivity

Heat- and drought-tolerant varieties and improved practices will raise farmers’ incomes, offer more affordable food and reduce costly imports

Wheat farm in Moghan, Caspian Region, northern Iran. Photo: J.Kamali/CIMMYT

Wheat farm in Moghan, Caspian Region, northern Iran. Photo: J.Kamali/CIMMYT


The government of Iran signed a momentous 6-year agreement with The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center(CIMMYT) for joint work to raise the productivity of the country’s wheat farms on some 2.5 million hectares—roughly 13 percent of the nation’s cultivated area.

Researchers of Iran and CIMMYT will develop and share improved varieties, draw on wild grasses of Iran as sources of resilience in breeding, improve policies and seed production/distribution systems and spread the use of conservation agriculture practices.

“I’m extremely pleased about this agreement with a long-time, valued partner,” said Martin Kropff, director general of CIMMYT. “It bespeaks Iran’s serious focus on providing affordable food and generating income for farmers. It also comes at a time when agri-food systems everywhere face daunting challenges, like more frequent droughts and less available irrigation water.”

To read more about the agreement between CIMMYT and Iran, read the full news release here.


Available Now: The 2015 WHEAT Annual Report

High returns to global wheat research

Building on more than a half-century of proven impacts, the global wheat improvement system led by CGIAR centers continues to be the chief source for wheat farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America of critical traits such as high yields, disease resistance and enhanced nutrition and quality.

A recently-published study found that CGIAR-derived varieties – nearly all traceable to CIMMYT and ICARDA breeding programs – cover more than 100 million of 220 million hectares worldwide and bring economic benefits of as much as $3.1 billion each year. To achieve impacts in wheat agri-food systems, CIMMYT and ICARDA depend on national partnerships in over 100 countries and critical support from CGIAR Fund Donors and other contributors, whom we sincerely thank on behalf of the world’s wheat farmers and consumers.

A critical juncture

Consumers in particular are benefiting from current low wheat grain prices, thanks in part to the success of WHEAT, but many studies foreshadow a future of rising demand and food price instability that could wreak havoc, particularly among poor consumers.

The unfolding scenario implies a yearly growth in wheat demand of 1.4 percent to 2030, at constant prices. But yield gains in wheat remain below 1 percent per year over the last decade, mainly because the easiest gains in wheat have already been achieved and more dramatic progress will require new approaches.

To ensure the affordable availability of wheat – a food staple that provides around 20 percent of protein and calories consumed worldwide – researchers need to expand field testing for disease resistance and heat and drought tolerance and to significantly raise wheat’s genetic yield potential.

Ethiopia 2015

Photo: Peter Lowe

For their part, during 2015 CIMMYT and ICARDA made excellent progress in merging their wheat programs to ensure partners and farmers’ quick and effective access to high-yielding, climate-resilient breeding lines, productive and resource-conserving cropping practices and knowledge needed to face the future of wheat, the vital grain of civilization and food security.

Hans-Joachim Braun

Director, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat

Read the full version of the 2015 WHEAT Annual Report here.

Assessing the impact of CIMMYT on capacity development in China

A study recently published byChina-Group-Portrait the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy of the Chinese Academy of Science showed that the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has provided an increasing number of training opportunities for Chinese scholars in the past four decades. 350 Chinese researchers had taken part in CIMMYT wheat training programs since 1970, of which 15 percent were female during 1980-1990; rising to 35 percent female during 2000-12. Since the 1990s, there was an increasing focus on young scientists.

The study is the first attempt at assessing the impact of CIMMYT’s training programs on Chinese scholars. The significant hidden value of CIMMYT’s training programs for Chinese trainees’ academic performance revealed by this study should have important implications for major international donors who are interested in improving NARS research capacity. The study stated that the trainees performed better after training. On average, trainees’ annual total numbers of publications, patents, awards and wheat varieties were higher in the post-training period. In addition, the trainees’ ability to obtain research projects and funding was higher than the average level of all scientists at their institutions.China training

According to the study, “the majority of trainees highly appreciated the effect CIMMYT training had on their careers. Most of them claimed that the training helped them obtain new scientific knowledge and technology, improve their research and work experiences, access more germplasm resources and develop a better research network. Moreover, most of the respondents also believe that the training programs have largely contributed to wheat technological changes in China. They suggest that CIMMYT can play a more important role by expanding its training programs and conducting more collaborative work in China in the future.”

The training impacts report is the second of two studies by CCAP-CAS on the achievements of the China-CIMMYT wheat research partnership. The first study showed that 10.7 million tons of grain — worth US $3.4 billion — were added to China’s wheat output, as well as genetic diversity that significantly enhanced key traits in China’s wheat varieties, through three decades of shared research.

To view or download a pdf of the report on training impacts, click here.


Annual meeting in Ciudad Obregón fosters international research partnerships

Katie Lutz
Each year, hundreds of wheat researchers from across the globe gather in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico to participate in the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s (CIMMYT) Global Wheat Program (GWP) Visitor’s Week at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB.) This year 220 guests from 31 nations attended visitor’s week during 14-18 March, ending just one week before what would have been 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former CIMMYT wheat breeder, Norman E. Borlaug’s, 102nd birthday.

The events held in Obregón help to foster a relationship between wheat researchers and facilitate partnerships worldwide. Participants are invited to attend the GWP Field Day at CENEB during the peak of the Obregón wheat growing season to learn more about CIMMYT programs and hear updates on the latest research.

In addition to Field Day this year, numerous meetings were held with the collective goal to contributing to the improvement of wheat research across the globe. Meetings held during visitor’s week included discussions based on exploring priority research areas in wheat.

A brainstorming session discussing future collaborations between the UK and CIMMYT, included dialogue on breeding for tolerance to high ambient temperatures, durable disease resistance, input use efficiency in nitrogen and quality and nutrition. Future collaborations between CIMMYT- Australia were also explored with the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Exchange group (CAIGE).  2Blades, a US-based organization supporting the development of durable disease resistances in crop plants and their deployment in agriculture also joined the conversation expressing the need for the use of safe, sustainable strategies for crop production.

Visitor 8x12

Additionally in exploring international collaborations, the second meeting of the Expert Working Group on Nutrient Use Efficiency in wheat aimed to improve international coordination on NUE (nitrogen and other nutrients) research between Australia, UK, France, Mexico, Italy, Spain and Germany.  During the NUE meeting an executive committee was appointed, Malcolm Hawksford, Head of Plant Biology and Crop Science at Rothamsted as Chair and Jacques Le Gouis, of INRA as Vice Chair.

Amidst the meetings and international collaborations, the International Wheat Yield Partnership held their first official program conference. During the IWYP conference, program director Jeff Gwyn, discussed outcomes and objectives for the next 20 years.

With the large audience of global wheat researchers, The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative used this platform to launch their new project, Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat, after announcements of the $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were made. DGGW will mitigate serious threats to wheat brought about by climate change and develop and deploy new strains of wheat that are heat tolerant as well as resistant to wheat rusts and other diseases.

With the hope of increasing data and information sharing, the International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN) awarded Mehmet Nazım Dincer of Turkey the IWIN Cooperator Award for his contribution of data to the international nurseries. Dincer was selected from a lottery of researchers who provided data to IWIN for the international nurseries in the last year. Dincer was congratulated for his collaborative efforts with a one week paid travel to Obregón for GWP Visitor’s Week and honored with an award during the festivities. The next winner will be selected in a lottery in November among co-operators who had returned 2016 International Nursery data. As Hans Braun stated, he is not aware of other lotteries with so few participants in which the jackpot is a trip to Obregón. So IWIN co-operators, return the data and win.

This week is not only an important time for international collaborations and brainstorming, but also for capacity development and training early career scientists. Coinciding with visitor’s week is the GWP Basic Wheat Improvement Course, a three month training course that targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field. In addition to attending Visitor’s Week events, trainees were offered special courses with guest lecturers. Joining the BWIC at this time were winners of the Women in Triticum 2016 Award. WIT winners and female trainees joined women across CIMMYT in a “Women in Agriculture” discussion led by Jeannie Borlaug, daughter of Norman Borlaug, to discuss difficulties and successes as women in science and agriculture.



CIMMYT scientist R.K. Malik wins Crawford Fund’s Derek Tribe Award for improving livelihoods of farmers in India

Photo RK Malik 2

Ram Kanwar Malik, a senior agronomist in the Sustainable Intensification Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) based in Bihar, India, is the winner of the 2015 Derek Tribe Award for his outstanding contributions to making a food secure world by improving and sustaining the productivity of the rice-wheat system of the northwestern and eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.

The Derek Tribe Award, given by the Australia-based Crawford Fund, is made biennially to a citizen of a developing country in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the application of research in agriculture in a developing country.

The prestigious award recognizes Malik’s more than 30 years of work in agricultural research and development dedicated to improving the livelihoods of millions of small-scale and marginal farmers in India. Malik was a pioneer promoter of zero tillage to sow wheat, in rice-wheat cropping zones of northern India—initially to control infestations of the weed, Phalaris minor. The approach, which involves seeding wheat directly into residues of the preceding rice crop, is used on 2 million hectares throughout South Asia’s rice-wheat cropping belt and in a recent report was shown to increase the annual incomes of farmers in Bihar, India, by an average of 6 percent.

Malik’s collaborative work with national and international partners and farmer participatory approaches have also fostered the adoption of climate-resilient technologies such as precision land leveling and direct-seeded rice, as well as policy changes in support of these and other resource-conserving practices.

Malik currently serves as the country coordinator for India for the CIMMYT-led sustainable intensification project, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA). He continues to raise productivity and smallholders’ incomes in the eastern states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, areas where rural poverty, food insecurity and yield gaps of cereal staples are among the most severe in South Asia.

Highlighting his life-long passion for understanding the needs of farmers and for ensuring farmers’ participation in research, Malik said, “For developing countries like India where farmers are small and marginalized and investment in research is low, the development of new technologies and the process of delivery are inseparable. In fact, a top-down approach could put up barriers to the adoption of new technologies. Listening to farmers and tailoring technologies to serve their needs thus become paramount.”

Read the full announcement from The Crawford Fund here.

Read the full announcement from CIMMYT here.


Knight of the Order of Agricultural Merit bestowed on WHEAT Independent Steering Committee Member

Katie Lutz

PrDrJohnPorterJohn R. Porter of The University of Copenhagen, the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, UK, and member of the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee, was granted Knight of the French Order of Agriculture Merit at a ceremony on 1 March.

The Order of Agricultural Merit is awarded to those that have made extraordinary contributions to agriculture, via research or practice. The Order, which was established in July 1883 by the then French Ministry of Agriculture, is one of the most important recognitions awarded in France.

To become a knight, a person must be at least 30 years of age and have dedicated at least 15 years of service to the agricultural community, covering both developed and developing country farming.

“France has had an extremely important role in the development of agriculture and food production in Europe and the world. The production of food serves one of the most basic human needs, and this award and its history recognizes that fact,” said Porter in an acceptance speech at the French Embassy in Denmark. “I was extremely honored and surprised when I learned that I would be bestowed with this honor.”

Porter is best known for his pioneering work in the development of crop simulation models that are now regarded as being central to guiding research identifying new crop phenotypes, the impacts of and adaptation to climate change and carbon mitigation to the benefit of agriculture globally. He has also made major contributions to agriculture via his multi-disciplinary work in the response to arable crops, energy crops and complex agro-ecosystems to their environment with an emphasis on climate change, agronomy and ecosystem services.

Focusing on agriculture in the developing world, Porter took the initiative to bring the secretariat and hub of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), to his university in Copenhagen. He has also collaborated with European pasta manufacturers to develop methods to identify high quality sources of durum wheat prior to harvest by using a combination of models and remote sensing technologies.

Porter has published more than 140 papers in reviewed journals and has won three international prizes for his research and teaching. Apart from serving on the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee, he was appointed by the French Ministry of Agriculture and serves as a member of the Science Council of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and previously served as the president of the European Society for Agronomy.

Most recently, Porter led the writing of a critically important chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on food production systems and food security for the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, which was the scientific bedrock of the COP21 agreement, signed December 2015.

Congratulations to Professor Dr John R. Porter on this prestigious award!