Author Archive

Activating the gene power in seeds to boost wheat’s climate resilience

As part of varied approaches at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to unleash the power of wheat biodiversity, researchers from India and Mexico have been mobilizing native diversity from ancestral versions of wheat and related grasses to heighten the crop’s resilience to dryness and heat—conditions that have held back wheat yields for several decades and will worsen as earth’s climate changes—and their results are beginning to reach breeders worldwide.

In the wheat component of the CIMMYT-led Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) project, by 2016 the scientists had cross-pollinated elite wheat lines with more than 1,000 heirloom wheat varieties and “synthetic wheats” — the result of interbreeding wheat with hardy wild grasses.

The team has since refined the experimental wheat lines from this work and shared them with scientists in Australia, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

South Asia: A laboratory for heat effects on wheat. The results are particularly relevant for India, whose farmers produce some 90 million tons of wheat each year and where overall warming and the increasingly variable onset of pre-monsoon heat threatens wheat crops.

Recognizing the value of the enhanced wheat genetic resources to address this and other challenges, the government of Punjab state, one of India’s leading wheat producers, is supporting SeeD’s wheat research at the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) Ludhiana, Punjab, experiment station, according to Kevin Pixley, director of CIMMYT’s genetic resources program.

“To break through wheat’s current yield-gain ceiling of less than 1 percent per year, wheat plants must be able produce much more while withstanding hot, dry weather and crop diseases,” said Pixley, speaking at a SeeD workshop at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, in March. “To develop such wheats, breeders need access to useful characteristics from unbred materials and wild relatives through pre-breeding, a process to develop bridging lines that carry the useful traits and can be used easily by breeders to cross those qualities into the best modern wheat varieties.”

Organized by BISA, the workshop provided a forum for scientists from the public national breeding programs of South Asia to share their data and feedback, after testing wheat pre-breeding lines developed at CIMMYT under heat and drought stress.

Workshop participants on a field visit at BISA farm, Ladhowal, Ludhiana (photo: Naveen Gupta/ CIMMYT-BISA).

Breeders are testing and using experimental wheat lines. “Systematic, large-scale deployment of useful wheat diversity from gene banks is extremely important to address increasing demand and climate change threats and generally broaden the genetic diversity of the wheat varieties that farmers grow,” said Sukhwinder Singh, who leads SeeD’s wheat research component. “We really appreciate the help of national partners to evaluate early-generation pre-breeding lines in their respective regions.”

The event drew 15 breeders and 20 PAU students and administrators, including the opening speakers Sarvejit Singh, PAU Director of Research, and D.S. Brar, PAU adjunct professor.

Among other things, workshop participants assessed the value of the wheat lines for their respective institutes’ research programs.

  • Achla Sharma and the team from PAU, Ludhiana, are tapping into pre-Green Revolution germplasm to broaden the genetic base of their breeding program. They showed two years of data that identified SeeD pre-breeding lines promising for tolerance to drought, salinity and soil micronutrient deficiency, as well as stripe and leaf rust resistance.
  • Sandeep Kumar, of India’s National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), has screened thousands of NBPGR accessions for heat tolerance and has been collaborating with CIMMYT wheat physiologist Matthew Reynolds for the past three years. He would like to compare NBPGR phenotypes and genotypes with materials from SeeD and the CIMMYT genebank.
  • Sanjay Kumar Singh, of the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR) in Karnal, reported that about one-third of the 164 SeeD pre-breeding lines they have evaluated are promising for rust resistance, and several look useful for heat and drought tolerance.
  • Jai Jaiswal, of G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, indicated that the maturity of SeeD pre-breeding lines is useful because it is similar or a few days earlier than the maturity of their checks. They are screening for heat tolerance and rust resistance, and appreciate the genotypic information available through CIMMYT/SeeD.
  • Ashwani Kumar and Daisy Basandrai from CSK Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University made a presentation on the potential of SeeD pre-breeding lines and landrace core sets evaluated at Malan station-Palampur. Based on artificially inoculated field and screenhouse trials, they have identified about 20 lines and 20 Iranian landraces with exciting levels of powdery mildew resistance.
  • Harminder Sidhu (BISA, CIMMYT) discussed how conservation agriculture contributes to climate change adaptation by saving water, nutrients and money, and maintaining cooler canopy temperature; it also reduces weeds and enables relay cropping. A discussion ensued on seeking germplasm for use in conservation agriculture with the objective of reducing weed competition.
  • Uttam Kumar (CIMMYT, BISA) spoke about genomic selection. Project partners expressed their interest in applying genomic selection to SeeD pre-breeding materials, for example, to predict performance in some environments using data from other environments.

Participants expressed great interest and their intent to continue field testing of wheat pre-breeding germplasm that appears promising for heat and drought tolerance and other traits, as well as to take part in analyses combining multi-location field data with genotypic data from SeeD.

Conserving, studying and using wheat genetic diversity. Located at CIMMYT headquarters in Central Mexico, the center’s wheat germplasm bank contains nearly 150,000 collections of seed of wheat and related species from more than 100 countries. These collections preserve the diversity of unique native varieties and wild relatives of wheat and are held under long-term storage for the benefit of humanity in accordance with the 2007 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, according to Pixley.

“CIMMYT researchers also apply targeted physiology and DNA technologies to broaden and leverage the native diversity of wheat for the challenges farmers face,” said Pixley. “Finally, the center leads an unparalleled international wheat improvement network whose contributions are found in the pedigrees of varieties sown on half of the world’s wheat area. As part of breeding nurseries and responses to requests for germplasm bank samples, in 2016 alone CIMMYT distributed more than 14 tons of experimental wheat seed in 306 shipments to 284 partners in 83 countries.”

The work of SeeD is supported by generous funding from Mexico’s Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food Secretariat (SAGARPA), the government of Punjab, and the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Strengthening African women’s participation in wheat farming

The work was led by Dina Najjar, Social and Gender Specialist, Social, Economics and Policy Research Theme, Sustainable Intensification and Resilient Production Systems Program (SIRPS), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Amman, Jordan. (Photo: ICARDA)

Gender inequality is a recurring feature of many agricultural production systems across the wheat-growing regions of Africa, and women farmers often lack access to credit, land, and other inputs. The result: limited adoption of new innovations, low productivity and income, and a missed opportunity to enhance household food security and prosperity.

In contrast, enhancing women’s involvement in agricultural development generates positive impacts beyond the lives of individual women – with benefits felt across entire communities and nations.

Identifying and challenging obstacles

Challenging the obstacles that rural women face is a key priority of a wheat initiative managed by ICARDA and supported by the African Development Bank and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

Action research to integrate women beneficiaries into the SARD-SC project in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia has helped identify actions and approaches that can be applied more widely to enhance women’s integration within diverse wheat production systems.

The main objectives were: increasing women’s income generation and contributions to food security, while addressing structural inequalities in access to inputs and services such as information, training, and microcredit.

Context-specific interventions

Our project employed context-specific interventions for growing grain, demonstrating technologies, adding value, and facilitating access to microcredit. Women’s involvement (65% in Sudan, 32% in Ethiopia and 12% in Nigeria) was often facilitated by gaining the trust and approval of male kin and support at the institutional levels – for example, recruiting women beneficiaries through the inclusion of female field staff: 4 in Nigeria, 4 in Sudan, and 6 in Ethiopia, all trained on gender integration.

Results have been promising so far:

  • The incomes of participating women have increased by up to 50% for those women who have participated in value addition (1,143 women in Sudan and 84 women in Nigeria).
  • The adoption of improved wheat varieties (by 716 women in Ethiopia, 24 women in Sudan, and 300 women in Nigeria) has increased wheat yields – by 11% in Ethiopia, 28% in Nigeria, and 62% in Sudan.
  • Workloads and drudgery have diminished through the use of mechanization (thresher, harvester) and improved access to key inputs such as pesticides (in Nigeria and Sudan).
  • The decision-making power of women has strengthened through participation in trainings and field days (about 30% women attended 16 field days in Sudan, 32 field days in Ethiopia, and 12 in Nigeria).
  • Enhanced access to microcredit (for 2500 women in Nigeria and 783 women in Sudan) has provided more sustained control over income-generating activities.

The awareness of key stakeholders — farmer associations, national research centres, lending institutions, and private seed companies — regarding the role that women can play as wheat grain and seed producers has also increased.

In addition, innovative approaches to value addition, a subject largely excluded from extension programs yet of great significance to women, were implemented and participating institutions gained new experience regarding how to integrate rural women effectively into their programming.

Recommendations for scaling-up and out

Key recommendations for expanding this work include increasing women farmer’s access to credit, so they can purchase inputs, extend their farmlands, and move into commercial farming; providing women with more ready access to markets for selling value-added products and to strengthen and pursue their entrepreneurial talents; and closely monitoring the progress of women farmers in productivity and profitability.

Husbands and male leaders, whose approval was often obtained for enabling the participation of women, were generally very supportive of women’s participation in SARD activities. Husbands in Sudan, for example, explained that their wives’ participation has been beneficial for the entire family (through increased yields, income, and/or reduced purchase of value added products from outside).

Insights gained from this work in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia can benefit efforts to address gender inequity elsewhere – generating benefit
s for women, households, and entire communities through increased food security and poverty alleviation, as well as more informed and inclusive decision-making in local agriculture.

International experts train scientists to fight deadly wheat disease in South Asia

A workshop participant speaks with a Bangladesh farmer. The protective gear minimizes the chances of transferring infectious spores. Photo by Chris Knight, IP-CALS, Cornell.

Samantha Hautea
Thursday, February 23, 2017

DINAJPUR, BANGLADESH: Wheat blast, a devastating fungal disease that appeared in South Asia for the first time in 2016, was the focus of a surveillance workshop in Bangladesh where international experts trained 40 top wheat pathologists, breeders, and agronomists from Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

The two-week program, “Taking action to mitigate the threat of wheat blast in South Asia: Disease surveillance and monitoring skills training,” was held at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) Wheat Research Center (WRC) in Dinajpur, Bangladesh, February 4-16, 2017.

Wheat researchers from BARI, Cornell University, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Kansas State University (KSU), and the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) led the workshop, training participants to recognize, monitor, and control wheat blast.

Click here to read more.

Scientists in Afghanistan set new program to raise wheat harvests

February 17, 2017

Photo: Masud Sultan/CIMMYT

Photo: Masud Sultan/CIMMYT

KABUL (CIMMYT) – Inadequate access to new disease-resistant varieties and short supplies of certified seed are holding back wheat output and contributing to rising food insecurity in Afghanistan, according to more than 50 national and international wheat experts.

Wheat scientists and policymakers discussed challenges to the country’s most-produced crop during a two-day meeting at Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) headquarters in Kabul, as part of the 5th Annual Wheat Researchers’ Workshop in November 2016. They took stock of constraints to the 2017 winter wheat crop, including dry autumn weather and rapidly-evolving strains of the deadly wheat disease known as yellow rust.

“Old wheat varieties are falling prey to new races of rust,” said Qudrat Soofizada, director for Adaptive Research at ARIA, pointing out that the country’s 2016 wheat harvest had remained below 5 million tons for the second year in a row, after a record harvest of more than 5.3 million tons in 2014.

The workshop was attended by 51 participants belonging to several ARIA research stations and experts from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and World Bank’s Afghanistan Agriculture Input Project (AAIP).

Afghanistan has been importing around 2.5 million tons of cereal grain — mainly wheat — in the last two years, with most of that coming from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, according to recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

“Most wheat farmers save grain from prior harvests and use that as seed, rather than sowing certified seed of newer, high-yielding and disease resistant varieties,” said Rajiv Sharma, CIMMYT senior scientist and representative at the center’s office in Afghanistan. “This is holding back the country’s wheat productivity potential.”

Sharma explained that CIMMYT has been supporting efforts of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) to boost supplies of certified seed of improved varieties and of critical inputs like fertilizer.

“CIMMYT has worked with Afghanistan wheat scientists for decades and more than 90 percent of the country’s certified wheat varieties contain genetic contributions from our global breeding efforts,” Sharma explained.

Since 2012, the center has organised more than 1,700 wheat variety demonstrations on farmers’ fields and trained over 1,000 farmers. CIMMYT scientists are also conducting field and DNA analyses of Afghan wheats, which will allow faster and more effective breeding.

The FAO reports showed that the government, FAO and diverse non-governmental organizations had distributed some 10,000 tons of certified seed of improved wheat varieties for the current planting season. With that amount of seed farmers can sow around 67,000 hectares, but this is only some 3 percent of the country’s approximately 2.5 million-hectare wheat area.

“We have been informing the National Seed Board about older varieties that are susceptible to the rusts,” said Ghiasudin Ghanizada, head of wheat pathology at MAIL/ARIA, Kabul, adding that efforts were being made to take such varieties out of the seed supply chain.

After discussions, Ghanizada and MAIL/ARIA associates M. Hashim Azmatyar and Abdul Latif Rasekh presented the technical program for breeding, pathology and agronomy activities to end 2016 and start off 2017.

Zubair Omid, hub coordinator, CIMMYT-Afghanistan, presented results of wheat farmer field demonstrations, informing that grain yields in the demonstrations ranged from 2.8 to 7.6 tons per hectare.

T.S. Pakbin, former director of ARIA, inaugurated the meeting and highlighted CIMMYT contributions to Afghanistan’s wheat improvement work. M.Q. Obaidi, director of ARIA, thanked participants for traveling long distances to attend, despite security concerns. Nabi Hashimi, research officer, CIMMYT-Afghanistan, welcomed participants on behalf of CIMMYT and wished them good luck for the 2016-17 season.

Wheat breeding trial results were presented by Zamarai Ahmadzada from Darulaman Research Station, Kabul; Aziz Osmani from Urad Khan Research Station, Herat; Shakib Attaye from Shisham Bagh Research Station, Nangarhar; Abdul Manan from Bolan Research Station, Helmand; Said Bahram from Central Farm, Kunduz; Najibullah Jahid from Kohkaran Research Station, Kandahar; and Sarwar Aryan from Mulla Ghulam Research Station, Bamyan.

Agronomy results from the research stations of Badakhshan, Herat, Kabul, Kunduz, Helmand and Bamyan were also presented and summarized by Abdul Latif Rasikh, head of Wheat Agronomy, ARIA headquarters, Badam Bagh, Kabul

Agricultural researchers forge new ties to develop nutritious crops and environmental farming

rothamsted

Photo: A. Cortes/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT)—Scientists from two of the world’s leading agricultural research institutes will embark on joint research to boost global food security, mitigate environmental damage from farming, and help to reduce food grain imports by developing countries.

At a recent meeting, 30 scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Rothamsted Research, a UK-based independent science institute, agreed to pool expertise in research to develop higher-yielding, more disease resistant and nutritious wheat varieties for use in more productive, climate-resilient farming systems.

“There is no doubt that our partnership can help make agriculture in the UK greener and more competitive, while improving food security and reducing import dependency for basic grains in emerging and developing nations,” said Achim Dobermann, director of Rothamsted Research, which was founded in 1843 and is the world’s longest running agricultural research station.

Individual Rothamsted and CIMMYT scientists have often worked together over the years, but are now forging a stronger, broader collaboration, according to Martin Kropff, CIMMYT director general. “We’ll combine the expertise of Rothamsted in such areas as advanced genetics and complex cropping systems with the applied reach of CIMMYT and its partners in developing countries,” said Kropff.

Nearly half of the world’s wheat lands are sown to varieties that carry contributions from CIMMYT’s breeding research and yearly economic benefits from the additional grain produced are as high as $3.1 billion.

Experts predict that by 2050 staple grain farmers will need to grow at least 60 percent more than they do now, to feed a world population exceeding 9 billion while addressing environmental degradation and climate shocks.

Rothamsted and CIMMYT will now develop focused proposals for work that can be funded by the UK and other donors, according to Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program. “We’ll seek large initiatives that bring significant impact,” said Braun.

Cornell receives UK support to aid scientists fighting threats to global wheat supply

Ronnie Coffman (r), Cornell plant breeder and director of the new Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project, surveys rust resistant wheat in fields of the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research with Bedada Girma (l), wheat breeder and Ethiopian coordinator for new project. Ethiopia is a major partner in the new grant. CREDIT: McCandless/Cornell

ITHACA, NY: Cornell University will receive $10.5 million in UK aid investment from the British people to help an international consortium of plant breeders, pathologists and surveillance experts overcome diseases hindering global food security efforts.

The funds for the four-year Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat, or DGGW, project will build on a $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced in March 2016, and bring the total to $34.5 million.

“Wheat provides 20 percent of the calories and protein consumed by people globally, but borders in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East are porous when it comes to disease pathogens and environmental stressors like heat and drought that threaten the world’s wheat supply,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of International Programs at Cornell University, who leads the global consortium.

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Harnessing medical technology and global partnerships to drive gains in food crop productivity

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Ulrich Schurr (left), of Germany’s Forschungszentrum Jülich research center and chair of the International Plant Phenotyping Network (IPPN), and Matthew Reynolds, wheat physiologist of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are promoting global partnerships in phenotyping to improve critical food crops, through events like the recent International Crop Phenotyping Symposium. Photo: M.Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATÁN, Mexico (CIMMYT) — Global research networks must overcome nationalist and protectionist tendencies to provide technology advances the world urgently needs, said a leading German scientist at a recent gathering in Mexico of 200 agricultural experts from more than 20 countries.

“Agriculture’s critical challenges of providing food security and better nutrition in the face of climate change can only be met through global communities that share knowledge and outputs; looking inward will not lead to results,” said Ulrich Schurr, director of the Institute of Bio- and Geosciences of the Forschungszentrum Jülich research center, speaking at the 4th International Plant Phenotyping Symposium

One such community is the International Plant Phenotyping Network(IPPN), chaired by Schurr and co-host of the symposium in December, with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT.

Adapting medical sensors helps crop breeders see plants as never before

“Phenotyping” is the application of new technology — including satellite images, airborne cameras, and multi-spectral sensors mounted on robotic carts — to the age-old art of measuring the traits and performance of breeding lines of maize, wheat and other crops, Schurr said.

“Farmers domesticated major food crops over millennia by selecting and using seed of individual plants that possessed desirable traits, like larger and better quality grain,” he explained. “Science has helped modern crop breeders to ‘fast forward’ the process, but breeders still spend endless hours in the field visually inspecting experimental plants. Phenotyping technologies can expand their powers of observation and the number of lines they process each year.”

Adapting scanning devices and protocols pioneered for human medicine or engineering, phenotyping was initially confined to labs and other controlled settings, according to Schurr.

“The push for the field started about five years ago, with the availability of new high-throughput, non-invasive devices and the demand for field data to elucidate the genetics of complex traits like yield or drought and heat tolerance,” he added.

Less than 10 years ago, Schurr could count on the fingers of one hand the number of institutions working on phenotyping. “Now, IPPN has 25 formal members and works globally with 50 institutions and initiatives.”

Cameras and other sensors mounted on flying devices like this blimp [remote-control quadcopter] provide crop researchers with important visual and numerical information about crop growth, plant architecture and photosynthetic traits, among other characteristics. Photo: Emma Quilligan/CIMMYT

Many ways to see plants and how they grow

So-called “deep” phenotyping uses technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission and computer tomography to identify, measure and understand “invisible” plant parts, systems and processes, including roots and water capture and apportionment.

In controlled environments such as labs and greenhouses, researchers use automated systems and environmental simulation to select sources of valuable traits and to gain insight on underlying plant physiology that is typically masked by the variation found in fields, according to Schurr.

“Several specialists in our symposium described automated lab setups to view and analyze roots and greenhouse systems to assess crop shoot geometry, biomass accumulation and photosynthesis,” he explained. “These are then linked to crop simulation models and DNA markers for genes of important traits.”

Schurr said that support for breeding and precision agriculture includes the use of cameras or other sensors that take readings from above plant stands and crop rows in the field.

“These may take the form of handheld devices or be mounted on autonomous, robotic carts,” he said, adding that the plants can be observed using normal light and infrared or other types of radiation reflected from the plant and soil.

“The sensors can also be mounted on flying devices including drones, blimps, helicopters or airplanes. This allows rapid coverage of a larger area and many more plants than are possible through visual observation alone by breeders walking through a field.”

In the near future, mini-satellites equipped with high-resolution visible light sensors to capture and share aerial images of breeding plots will be deployed to gather data in the field, according to symposium participants.

Bringing high-flying technologies to earth

As is typical with new technologies and approaches to research, phenotyping for crop breeding and research holds great promise but must overcome several challenges, including converting images to numeric information, managing massive and diverse data, interfacing effectively with genomic analysis and bringing skeptical breeders on board.

“The demands of crop breeding are diverse — identifying novel traits, studies of genetic resources and getting useful diversity into usable lines, choosing the best parents for crosses and selecting outstanding varieties in the field, to name a few,” Schurr explained. “From the breeders’ side, there’s an opportunity to help develop novel methods and statistics needed to harness the potential of phenotyping technology.”

A crucial linkage being pursued is that with genomic analyses. “Studies often identify genome regions tied to important traits like photosynthesis as ‘absolute,’ without taking into account that different genes might come into play depending on, say, the time of day of measurement,” Schurr said. “Phenotyping can shed light on such genetic phenomena, describing the same thing from varied angles.”

Speaking at the symposium, Greg Rebetzke, a research geneticist since 1995 at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said that the effective delivery in commercial breeding of “phenomics” — a term used by some to describe the high-throughput application of phenotyping in the field — is more a question of what and when, not how.

“It’s of particular interest in breeding for genetically complex traits like drought tolerance,” Rebetzke said. “Phenomics can allow breeders to screen many more plants in early generations of selection, helping to bring in more potentially useful genetic diversity. This genetic enrichment with key alleles early on can significantly increase the likelihood of identifying superior lines in the later, more expensive stages of selecting, which is typically done across many different environments.”

Moreover, where conventional breeding generally uses “snaphot” observations of plants at different growth stages, phenotyping technology can provide detailed time-series data for selected physiological traits and how they are responding to their surroundings — say, well-watered versus dry conditions — and for a much greater diversity and area of plots and fields.

Phenotyping is already being translated from academic research to commercial sector development and use, according to Christoph Bauer, leader of phenotyping technologies at KWS, a German company that breeds for and markets seed of assorted food crops.

“It takes six-to-eight years of pre-breeding and breeding to get our products to market,” Bauer said in his symposium presentation. “In that process, phenotyping can be critical to sort the ‘stars’ from the ‘superstars’.”

Commercial technology providers for phenotyping are also emerging, according to Schurr, helping to ensure robustness, the use of best practices and alignment with the needs of academic and agricultural industry customers.

“The partnership triad of academia, commercial providers and private seed companies offers a powerful avenue for things like joint analysis of genotypic variation in the pre-competitive domain or testing of cutting-edge technology,” he added.

On the final morning of the symposium, participants broke off into groups to discuss special topics, including the cost effectiveness of high-throughput phenotyping and its use to analyze crop genetic resources, measuring roots, diagnostics of reproductive growth, sensor technology needs, integrating phenotypic data into crop models, and public-private collaboration.

Schurr said organizations like CIMMYT play a crucial role.

“CIMMYT does relevant breeding for millions of maize and wheat farmers — many of them smallholders — who live in areas often of little interest for large-scale companies, providing support to the national research programs and local or regional seed producers that serve such farmers,” Schurr said. “The center also operates phenotyping platforms worldwide for traits like heat tolerance and disease resistance and freely spreads knowledge and technology.”

2nd call for proposals from the International Wheat Yield Partnership

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) is initiating its Second Competitive Funding Call by inviting creative, forward-looking proposals that seek to discover resilient and sustainable approaches to substantially increase the genetic yield potential of wheat, as defined by grain yield under the absence of stress, for the benefit of developed and developing countries. It is anticipated that wheat yield potential can be enhanced by:

  • Increasing carbon capture before floweringiwyp
  • Increasing biomass
  • Optimizing harvest index
  • Enhancing photosynthetic pathways
  • Specific changes in plant architecture
  • Modifying phenology, e.g., flowering time
  • Hybrid wheat system development
  • Root structure and growth
  • Faster / alternative breeding methods
  • Modeling to define best traits per environment

The topics above are given as an illustrative list for areas of research that are being sought and we will consider other research topics that pertain to genetic yield potential. Proposals that concentrate mainly on plant stresses or agronomic systems will be considered out of scope. The proposed research should be based on Triticeae germplasm or lead to discoveries directly relevant to wheat.

With this initiative IWYP is seeking breakthroughs in genetic yield potential beyond what is expected to occur in ongoing breeding programs. Therefore, new or different approaches and/or novel techniques are envisaged. Research outputs should be clearly defined in terms of specifically timed milestones and quantifiable deliverables. Proposals where outputs are only descriptions of plant processes will be considered out of scope.

The selection process will be two-stage whereby applicants must first submit a Pre-Proposal due by 3 March 2017. Full details and application instructions can be found at http://iwyp.org/ beginning 16 December 2016. Proposals that do not closely adhere to the instructions, formats and timelines will not be considered. Proposals must be academic led and can be from single institutions, although national and especially international consortia are strongly encouraged. Applications involving private industry collaborators are also strongly encouraged. Funding requests can range from 1 to 3 years but should not exceed a maximum cash request of US$2 Million over 3 years. Full-Proposals will be invited from selected Pre-Proposals. Proposals will be judged by their scientific excellence, breakthrough potential and relevance to markedly improving the genetic yield potential of wheat.

The successful proposals will be integrated into the IWYP Science Program led by the Program Director in liaison with a Scientific Advisory Committee. Discoveries made in the Science Program will be further characterized, validated and developed in advanced wheat lines for rapid deployment in breeding programs by the IWYP Hub at CIMMYT.

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) is a major public/private initiative being supported by research funders, international agencies, national and international research organizations and industry partners. Its goal is to increase wheat yields globally in both developed and developing countries. IWYP is led by a Program Director, an international Board of funders, scientific experts and members from commercial breeding companies.

Advice for India’s rice-wheat farmers: Put aside the plow and save straw to fight pollution

by Mike Listman / 29 November 2016

Recent media reports show that the 19 million inhabitants of New Delhi are under siege from a noxious haze generated by traffic, industburningcloseries, cooking fires and the burning of over 30 million tons of rice straw on farms in the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab.

However, farmers who rotate wheat and rice crops in their fields and deploy a sustainable agricultural technique known as “zero tillage” can make a significant contribution to reducing smog in India’s capital, helping urban dwellers breathe more easily.

Since the 1990s, scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been working with national partners and advanced research institutes in India to test and promote reduced tillage which allows rice-wheat farmers of South Asia to save money, better steward their soil and water resources, cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop the burning of crop residues.

The key innovation involves sowing wheat seed directly into untilled soil and rice residues in a single tractor pass, a method known as zero tillage. Originally deemed foolish by many farmers and researchers, the practice or its adaptations slowly caught on and by 2008 were being used to sow wheat by farmers on some 1.8 million hectares in India.

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The Turbo Happy Seeder allows farmers to sow a rotation crop directly into the residues of a previous crop—in this case, wheat seed into rice straw—without plowing, a practice that raises yields, saves costs and promotes healthier soil and cleaner air.

Click here to read more about how scientists and policymakers are promoting the technique as a key alternative for residue burning and to help clear Delhi’s deadly seasonal smog.

 

 

Announcement: 2017 CIMMYT basic wheat improvement course

A unique professional development opportunity for early-career wheat scientists in the public and private sectors, this course aims to impart the skills and knowledge needed to design and run a sustainable breeding program, familiarize participants with improved wheat germplasm and new wheat improvement technology, improve awareness of support disciplines (pathology, physiology, quality, statistics, biotechnology, GIS, and social sciences), and foster positive attitudinal changes (confidence, motivation, and appreciation of team work and interdisciplinary research).

To register or read more about the course, click here.