Many conditions, same yield: Durum wheat selected for zero tillage performs equally under conventional farming practices

Researchers demonstrate that CIMMYT’s durum wheat lines can be grown, bred, and selected under zero tillage or conventional tillage conditions without negatively affecting yield

CIMMYT’s multi-crop, multi-use zero tillage seeder at work on a long-term conservation agriculture (CA) trial plot at the center’s headquarters at El Batán, Mexico. Crop residues, which are retained on the soil surface in CA, are visible in the foreground.
Photo credit: CIMMYT.

New research published in Field Crops Research by scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) responds to the question of whether wheat varieties need to be adapted to zero tillage conditions.

With 33% of global soils already degraded, agricultural techniques like zero tillage – growing crops without disturbing the soil with activities like plowing – in combination with crop residue retention, are being considered to help protect soils and prevent further degradation. Research has shown that zero tillage with crop residue retention can reduce soil erosion and improve soil structure and water retention, leading to increased water use efficiency of the system. Zero tillage has also been shown to be the most environmentally friendly among different tillage techniques.

While CIMMYT promotes conservation agriculture, of which zero tillage is a component, many farmers who use CIMMYT wheat varieties still use some form of tillage. As farmers adopt conservation agriculture principles in their production systems, we need to be sure that the improved varieties breeders develop and release to farmers can perform equally well in zero tillage as in conventional tillage environments.

The aim of the study was to find out whether breeding wheat lines in a conservation agriculture environment had an effect on their adaptability to one tillage system or another, and whether separate breading streams would be required for each tillage system.

The scientists conducted parallel early generation selection in sixteen populations from the breeding program. The best plants were selected in parallel under conventional and zero-till conditions, until 234 and 250 fixed lines, were obtained.  They then grew all 484 wheat lines over the course of three seasons near Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, under three different environments, — zero tillage, conventional tillage, and conventional tillage with reduced irrigation – and tested them for yield and growth traits. 

The authors found that yields were better under zero tillage than conventional tillage for all wheat lines, regardless of how they had been bred and selected, as this condition provided longer water availability between irrigations and mitigated inter-irrigation water stress. 

The main result was that selection environment, zero-till versus conventional till, did not produce lines with specific adaptation to either conditions, nor did it negatively impact the results of the breeding program for traits such as plant height, tolerance to lodging and earliness.

One trait which was slightly affected by selection under zero-till was early vigor – the speed at which crops grow during the earliest stage of growth. Early vigor is a useful adaptive trait in conservation agriculture because it allows the crop to cope with high crop residue loads – materials left on the ground such as leaves, stems and seed pods – and can improve yield through rapid development of maximum leaf area in dry environments. Results showed that varieties selected under zero tillage showed slightly increased early vigor which means that selection under zero tillage may drive a breeding program towards the generalization of this useful attribute.

The findings demonstrate that CIMMYT’s durum wheat lines, traditionally bred for wide-adaptation, can be grown, bred, and selected under either tillage conditions without negatively affecting yield performance. This is yet another clear demonstration that breeding for wide adaptation, a decades-long tradition within CIMMYT’s wheat improvement effort, is a suitable strategy to produce varieties that are competitive in a wide range of production systems. The findings represent a major result for wheat breeders at CIMMYT and beyond, with the authors concluding that it is not necessary to have separate breeding programs to address the varietal needs of either tillage systems.

This work was implemented by CIMMYT as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT).

Read more results and recommendations in the study, “Durum wheat selection under zero tillage increases early vigor and is neutral to yield” in Field Crops Research, November 2019.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2019.107675

CGIAR to strengthen collaboration with Turkish Ministry of Agriculture

Delegates from CIMMYT, ICARDA, the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and others discussing collaboration for crop research.
Photo: General Directorate of Agricultural Research (GDAR) of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Turkish Republic

Wheat research leaders from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) recently traveled to Turkey to discuss continued collaboration among Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the two institutions.

Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat and Michael Baum, program director for Biodiversity and Crop Improvement at ICARDA, met with Deputy Minister Mustafa Aksu and General Director for Agricultural Research of the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (GDAR) Ozkan Kayacan to evaluate the current and potential areas for collaboration, both in Turkey and the region.

Turkey and CIMMYT have a long history of joint research dating back nearly 50 years  Joint research includes the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP), a joint Soil Borne Pathogens Program based in Turkey, among other programs such as the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) program.

“Our relationship with Turkey has been longstanding and very fruitful,” said Hans Braun. “We are pleased to continue and grow this partnership between CGIAR Centers and Turkey towards a bigger CGIAR-wide crop improvement initiative.”

IWWIP, a joint program of Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and CIMMYT since the mid-1980s with ICARDA joining in 1991, develops winter wheat germplasm for Central and West Asia and facilitates a winter wheat germplasm exchange for the global breeding community.  The program works jointly with research institutes of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to distribute germplasm globally through observation nurseries around the world.  At least 42 varieties from IWWIP have been released in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The CIMMYT-Turkey Soil Borne Pathogens Program, a world-class center for research on soil borne pathogens, benefits from ongoing support by the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to fight against diseases affecting cereal crops, which occupy 65 percent of Turkey’s farmland.

During the one-day meeting, the group, which included representatives from the Turkish Ministry’s Field Crops Department, IWWIP, the Sakarya Research Institute and others, reviewed current progress of the ongoing joint programs and developed work plans for next steps to improve the strong cooperation. New areas of collaboration with potential support by the Turkish government include joint research with CIMMYT’s maize program and opportunities for capacity building support in wheat improvement.

Meeting attendees included Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Deputy General Directors Ilhan Aydin and Ihsan Arslan, Head of Field Crops Department Ayfer Sahin, IWWIP Coordinator Fatih Ozdemir, Sakarya Research Institute Director Yavuz Agi, and Specialist Merve Altan, CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun; CIMMYT Country Representative for Turkey Abdelfattah A.S. Dababat, CIMMYT Consultant Seher Turkyilmaz Sinclair, ICARDA Program Director Michael Baum, and Turkey Country Representative for ICARDA Mesut Keser.

New mobile technology to help farmers improve yields and stabilize incomes

This story by Alison Doody was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

An international team of scientists is working with farmers in the Yaqui Valley, in Mexico’s Sonora state, to develop and test a new mobile technology that aims to improve wheat and sugarcane productivity by helping farmers manage factors that cause the yield gap between crop potential and actual field performance.

Scientists have been developing and testing a smartphone app where farmers can record their farming activities — including sowing date, crop type and irrigation — and receive local, precise crop management advice in return.

This project is a private-public partnership known as Mexican COMPASS, or Mexican Crop Observation, Management & Production Analysis Services System.

Research has shown that proper timing of irrigation is more important to yields than total water amounts. Earlier planting times have also been shown to improve wheat yields. Having optimum dates for both activities could help farmers improve yields and stabilize their incomes.

COMPASS smartphone app interface. (Photo: Saravana Gurusamy/Rezatec)
COMPASS smartphone app interface. (Photo: Saravana Gurusamy/Rezatec)

The COMPASS smartphone app uses earth observation satellite data and in-situ field data captured by farmers to provide information such as optimum sowing date and irrigation scheduling.

“Sowing and irrigation timing are well known drivers of yield potential in that region — these are two features of the app we’re about to validate during this next season,” explained Francelino Rodrigues, Precision Agriculture Scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Sound data

Technological innovation for crop productivity is needed now more than ever with threats to food security increasing and natural resources becoming scarcer. Farmers are under increasing pressure to produce more with less, which means greater precision is needed in their agricultural practices.

The Yaqui Valley, Mexico’s biggest wheat producing area, is located in the semi-arid Sonoran Desert in the northern part of Mexico. Water security is a serious challenge and farmers must be very precise in their irrigation management.

The Mexican COMPASS consortium, which is made up of the geospatial data analytics company Rezatec, the University of NottinghamBooker TateCIMMYT and the Colegio de Postgraduados (COLPOS) in Mexico, evolved as a way to help Mexican farmers improve their water use efficiency.

“Yaqui Valley farmers are very experienced farmers, however they can also benefit by using an app that is designed locally to inform and record their decisions,” Rodrigues explained.

The smartphone app will also allow farmers to record and schedule their crop management practices and will give them access to weekly time-series Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) maps, that will allow farmers to view their fields at any time from any location.

“All of this information is provided for free! That’s the exciting part of the project. The business model was designed so that farmers will not need to pay for access to the app and its features, in exchange for providing their crop field data. It’s a win-win situation,” said Rodrigues.

CIMMYT research assistant Lorena Gonzalez (center) helps local farmers try out the new COMPASS app during the workshop in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state, Mexico. (Photo: Alison Doody/CIMMYT)
CIMMYT research assistant Lorena Gonzalez (center) helps local farmers try out the new COMPASS app during the workshop in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state, Mexico. (Photo: Alison Doody/CIMMYT)

Farmer-centered design

The app is now in the validation stage and COMPASS partners are inviting farmers to test the technology on their own farms. A workshop on October 21 in Ciudad Obregon provided farmers with hands-on training for the app and allowed them to give their feedback.

Over 100 farmers attended the workshop, which featured presentations from Saravana Gurusamy, project manager at Rezatec, Iván Ortíz-Monasterio, principal scientist at CIMMYT, and representatives from local farmer groups Asociación de Organismos de Agricultores del Sur de Sonora (AOASS) and Distrito de Riego del Río Yaqui (DRRYAQUI). The workshop featured a step-by-step demonstration of the app and practical exercises for farmers to test it out for themselves.

CIMMYT Principal Scientist Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio and representatives from DRRYAQUI giving presentations at last month’s workshop in Obregon, Mexico. Photo: CIMMYT/Alison Doody

“We need technology nowadays because we have to deal with many factors. The profit we get for wheat is getting smaller and smaller each year, so we have to be very productive. I hope that this app can help me to produce a better crop,” said one local wheat farmer who attended the workshop.

User feedback has played a key role in the development of the app. COMPASS interviewed dozens of farmers to see what design worked for them.

CIMMYT Precision Agriculture Scientist Francelino Rodrigues helps local farmers try out new COMPASS app during last month’s workshop in Obregon, Mexico. Photo: CIMMYT/Alison Doody

“Initially we came up with a really complicated design. However, when we gave it to farmers, they didn’t know how to use it,” explained Rezatec project manager, Saravana Gurusamy. The team went back to the drawing board and with the feedback they received from farmers, came up with a simple design that any farmer, regardless of their experience with technology or digital literacy, could use.

To watch the full interview click here

Sitting down with Gurusamy after the workshop, he outlined his vision for the future of the app.

“My vision is to see all the farmers in Sonora, working in wheat using the app. The first step is to prove the technology here, then roll it out to all of Mexico and eventually internationally.”

Healthy diets feature both whole- and refined-grain foods, new study shows

This press release was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Freshly baked rye bread is displayed next to wheat spikes and grains. (Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr)

Grain-based foods — both whole-grain and refined, from which the bran has been removed — are a key part of healthy diets, according to a study published in the science journal Advances in Nutrition.

The study, co-authored by Julie Miller Jones of St. Catherine University, Carlos Guzman of the Universidad de Córdoba and Hans-Joachim Braun of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), reviewed findings of more than 100 research papers from nutrition and medical journals as well as national health recommendations. It presents evidence for positive health impacts from diverse diets that include not more than 50% carbohydrates and the right mix of grain-based foods.

“Epidemiological studies consistently show that eating three 30-gram portions of whole-grain foods — say, half a cup of oats — per day is associated with reduced chronic disease risk,” said Miller Jones, Professor Emerita at St. Catherine University and first author of the study. “But refined-grain foods — especially staple, enriched or fortified ones of the ‘non-indulgent’ type — also provide key vitamins and minerals that are otherwise lacking in people’s diets.”

“Cereal grains help feed the world by providing millions of calories per hectare and large amounts of plant-based protein,” said Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat. “They are affordable, shelf stable, portable, versatile, and popular, and will play a key role as the world transitions to plant-based diets to meet future food needs.”

Folate fortification of refined grains has helped reduce the incidence of spina bifida, anencephaly, and other birth defects, according to Miller Jones. “And despite contributing to high sugar intake, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are typically consumed with nutritious foods such as milk, yogurt, and fruit,” she added.

All grain-based foods, refined and whole, are good sources of dietary fiber, which is essential for sound health but critically lacking in modern diets. “Only 4 percent of the U.S. population, for example, eats recommended levels of dietary fiber,” she said.

Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses from unbalanced diets and unhealthy habits are on the rise in countries such as the U.S., driving up health care expenditures. The annual medical costs of obesity alone there have been estimated at nearly $150 billion.

“Dietary choices are determined partly by lifestyle but also co-vary with daily habits and personal traits,” Miller Jones explained. “People who eat more whole-grain foods are more likely to exercise, not smoke, and have normal body weights, as well as attaining higher levels of education and socioeconomic status.”

According to the study, recommendations for grain-based foods need to encourage a healthy number of servings and replacing half of refined-grain foods with whole-grain products, as well as providing clearer and unbiased definitions of both types of grain-based foods.


RELATED RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS:

Perspective: Whole and Refined Grains and Health — Evidence Supporting “Make Half Your Grains Whole”

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:

Hans Braun – Director of the Global Wheat Program, CIMMYT

FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO ARRANGE INTERVIEWS, CONTACT THE MEDIA TEAM:

Marcia MacNeil, Communications Officer, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, CIMMYT.
m.macneil@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2070.

Rodrigo Ordóñez, Communications Manager, CIMMYT.
r.ordonez@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 1167.

ABOUT CIMMYT:

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information, visit www.cimmyt.org.

This research is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

CIMMYT is ready to support Ethiopia’s move toward — and beyond — wheat self-sufficiency

This article by Simret Yasabu was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Ethiopia, 2017. Photographer: ILRI/ Apollo Habtamu.

Ethiopia has huge potential and a suitable agroecology for growing wheat. However, its agriculture sector, dominated by a traditional farming system, is unable to meet the rising demand for wheat from increasing population and urbanization. Wheat consumption in Ethiopia has grown to 6.7 million tons per year, but the country only produces about 5 million tons per year on 1.7 million hectares. As a result, the country pays a huge import bill reaching up to $700 million per year to match supply with demand.

A new initiative is aiming to change this scenario, making Ethiopia wheat self-sufficient by opening new regions to wheat production.

“We have always been traditionally a wheat growing country, but focusing only in the highlands with heavy dependence on rain. Now that is changing and the government of Ethiopia has set a new direction for import substitution by growing wheat in the lowlands through an irrigated production system,” explained Mandefro Nigussie, director general of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). Nigussie explained that several areas are being considered for this initiative: Awash, in the Oromia and Afar regions; Wabeshebelle, in the Somali Region; and Omo, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR).

A delegation from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) recently met Ethiopian researchers and policymakers to discuss CIMMYT’s role in this effort. Ethiopia’s new Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Umar Hussein, attended the meeting.

“We understand that the government of Ethiopia has set an ambitious project but is serious about it, so CIMMYT is ready to support you,” said Hans Braun, director of the Global Wheat Program at CIMMYT.

Hans Braun (center), director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program, speaks at the meeting. (Photo: Simret Yasabu/CIMMYT)
Hans Braun (center), director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program, speaks at the meeting. (Photo: Simret Yasabu/CIMMYT)

Strong collaboration

CIMMYT and the Ethiopian government have identified priority areas that will support the new government initiative. These include testing a large number of advanced lines to identify the right variety for the lowlands; developing disease resistant varieties and multiplying good quality and large quantity early generation initial seed; refining appropriate agronomic practices that improve crop, land and water productivity; organizing exposure visits for farmers and entrepreneurs; implementing training of trainers and researchers; and technical backstopping.

CIMMYT has been providing technical support and resources for wheat and maize production in Ethiopia for decades. As part of this support, CIMMYT has developed lines that are resistant to diseases like stem and yellow rust, stress tolerant and suitable for different wheat agroecologies.

“This year, for example, CIMMYT has developed three lines which are suitable for the lowlands and proposed to be released,” said Bekele Abeyo, wheat breeder and CIMMYT Country Representative for Ethiopia. “In India, the green revolution wouldn’t have happened without the support of CIMMYT and we would also like to see that happen in Ethiopia.”

“With our experience, knowledge and acquired skills, there is much to offer from the CIMMYT side,” Abeyo expressed. He noted that mechanization is one of the areas in which CIMMYT excels. Through a business service providers model, CIMMYT and its partners tested the multipurpose two-wheel tractors in Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and the southern regions. Good evidence for impact was generated particularly in Oromia and the south, where service providers generated income and ensured food security.

“Import versus export depends on a comparative advantage and for Ethiopia it is a total disadvantage to import wheat while having the potential [to grow more],” said Hussein. “The Ministry of Agriculture is thus figuring out what it can do together with partners like CIMMYT on comparative advantages.”

Hussein explained that the private sector has always been on the sidelines when it comes to agriculture. With the new initiative, however, it will be involved, particularly in the lowlands where there is abundant land for development under irrigation and available water resources, with enormous investment potential for the private sector. This, he noted, is a huge shift for the agricultural sector, which was mainly taken care of by the government and smallholder farmers, with support from development partners.

Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture, Umar Hussein, speaks about the new initiative. (Photo: Simret Yasabu/CIMMYT)
Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture, Umar Hussein, speaks about the new initiative. (Photo: Simret Yasabu/CIMMYT)

Thinking beyond the local market

As it stands now, Ethiopia is the third largest wheat producing country in Africa and has great market potential for the region. With more production anticipated under the new initiative, Ethiopia plans to expand its market to the world.

“We want our partners to understand that our thinking and plan is not only to support the country but also to contribute to the global effort of food security,” Hussein explained. However, “with the current farming system this is totally impossible,” he added. Mechanization is one of the key drivers to increase labor, land and crop productivity by saving time and ensuring quality. The government is putting forward some incentives for easy import of machinery. “However, it requires support in terms of technical expertise and knowledge transfer,” Hussein concluded.

CIMMYT wheat scientists receive top honors from US agricultural scientists

Hans-Joachim Braun and Alexey Morgunov receive awards and fellowships at annual meeting of crop science peers.

This article by Marcia McNeil was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

CIMMYT scientists Thomas Payne (left), Hans-Joachim Braun (third from left) and Alex Morgunov (right) celebrate their award with World Food Prize laureate and former CIMMYT wheat program director Sanjaya Rajaram. (Photo: Johanna Franziska Braun/CIMMYT)
CIMMYT scientists Thomas Payne (left), Hans-Joachim Braun (third from left) and Alex Morgunov (right) celebrate their award with World Food Prize laureate and former CIMMYT wheat program director Sanjaya Rajaram. (Photo: Johanna Franziska Braun/CIMMYT)

Two scientists working in the world’s leading public wheat breeding program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been recognized with awards and fellowships this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.

Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, has been honored with the American Society of Agronomy’s International Agronomy Award.

Alexey Morgunov, CIMMYT principal scientist and head of the Turkey-based International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP) received the distinction of Fellow from the Crop Science Society of America. Braun was also distinguished with this fellowship.

Excellence in agronomy

The American Society of Agronomy’s International Agronomy Award recognizes outstanding contributions in research, teaching, extension, or administration made outside of the United States by a current agronomist. Braun received the distinction during an awards ceremony and lecture on November 12, 2019. The award committee made its selection based on criteria including degrees, professional positions, and contributions and service to the profession such as publications, patents, and efforts to develop or improve programs, practices, and products.

The award recognizes Braun’s achievements developing and promoting improved wheat varieties and cropping practices that have benefited hundreds of millions of farmers throughout Central Asia, South Asia and North Africa. Nearly half the world’s wheat lands overall — as well as 70 to 80% of all wheat varieties released in Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, and North Africa — are derived from the research of CIMMYT and its partners.

“I am honored to be recognized by my fellow agronomists,” Braun said. “This award highlights the importance of international research collaboration, because the food security challenges we face do not stop at national borders.”

Braun began his 36-year CIMMYT career in Mexico in 1983. From 1985 to 2005, he led the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program in Turkey, implemented by CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). As director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program since 2004 and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat since 2014, he is responsible for the technical direction and implementation of a program that develops and distributes wheat germplasm to more than 200 collaborators in more than 100 countries, grown on over half the spring wheat area in developing countries.

Hans-Joachim Braun (right) receives the International Agronomy Award from Gary Pierzynski, president of the American Society of Agronomy. (Photo: Johanna Franziska Braun/CIMMYT)
Hans-Joachim Braun (right) receives the International Agronomy Award from Gary Pierzynski, president of the American Society of Agronomy. (Photo: Johanna Franziska Braun/CIMMYT)

Crop fellows

Braun and Morgunov were also chosen as Fellows, the highest recognition bestowed by the Crop Science Society of America. Members of the society nominate worthy colleagues based on their professional achievements and meritorious service. Fellows are a select group: only three out of every 1,000 of the society’s more than 4,000 active and emeritus members receive the honor.

Morgunov joined CIMMYT in 1991 as a spring wheat breeder, working with former Global Wheat Program Director and World Food Prize laureate Sanjaya Rajaram. In 1994, he moved to Turkey to work as winter wheat breeder, and then to Kazakhstan, where he worked to develop and promote new wheat varieties for the Central Asia and the Caucasus region. He has led the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program in Turkey since 2006. In this role, he has been responsible for the release of more than 80 varieties in the region. He also completed a national inventory for wheat landraces in Turkey.

Alex Morgunov (center) receives his Crop Science Society of America Fellow certificate. (Photo: Johanna Franziska Braun/CIMMYT)
Alex Morgunov (center) receives his Crop Science Society of America Fellow certificate. (Photo: Johanna Franziska Braun/CIMMYT)

“I am pleased to be recognized as [a Crop Science Society of America] Fellow,” Morgunov said. “I hope this award brings more attention to the importance of finding, saving and using the vast diversity of crop varieties in the world, for resilient crops and healthy food for all.”

Braun and Morgunov were formally recognized as Fellows on November 13.

The annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America convenes around 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students to share knowledge and recognition of achievements in the field. This year’s meeting was held in San Antonio, Texas.

Head of CIMMYT Wheat Germplasm Bank honored at gathering of crop science peers

Thomas Payne delivering a presentation at the Frank N. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources Breakfast. Photo credit: Kevin Pixley/CIMMYT

Thomas Payne, head of the Wheat Germplasm Bank at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), was awarded the Frank N. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources this morning at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America in San Antonio, Texas.

The Frank N. Meyer Medal recognizes contributions to plant germplasm collection and use, as well as dedication and service to humanity through the collection, evaluation or conservation of earth’s genetic resources. The award was presented by Clare Clarice Coyne, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research geneticist.

As an award recipient, Thomas Payne delivered a lecture that touched on the philosophy, history and culture surrounding plant genetic diversity and its collectors, and CIMMYT’s important role in conserving and sharing crop diversity.

CIMMYT scientist Alexey Morgunov, Thomas Payne’s sister Susan Payne, Thomas Payne. Photo credit: Kevin Pixley/CIMMYT

Thomas Payne has focused his career on wheat improvement and conservation. In addition to leading CIMMYT’s Wellhausen-Anderson Wheat Genetic Resources Collection, one of the world’s largest collection of wheat and maize germplasm, he manages the CIMMYT International Wheat Improvement Network.  He is the current Chair of the Article 15 Group of CGIAR Genebank Managers, and has served as Secretary to the CIMMYT Board of Trustees.  His association with CIMMYT began immediately after obtaining a PhD at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1988, and he has held positions for CIMMYT in Ethiopia, Mexico, Syria, Turkey and Zimbabwe. 

“CIMMYT is the largest distributor of maize and wheat germplasm worldwide, with materials emanating from its research and breeding programs, as well as held in-trust in the germplasm bank.  The Meyer Medal is a reflection of the impact CIMMYT makes in the international research community —  and in farmers’ fields throughout the developing world,” he said.

Located at CIMMYT headquarters outside Mexico City, the CIMMYT Wheat Germplasm Bank contains nearly 150,000 collections of seed of wheat and related species from more than 100 countries. The 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. They are also studied and used as a source of diversity to breed for crucial traits such as heat and drought tolerance, resistance to crop diseases and pests, grain yield productivity and grain quality. Seed is freely shared on request to researchers, students, and academic and development institutions worldwide.

The Frank N. Meyer Medal for  Plant Genetic Resources. Photo credit: Kevin Pixley/CIMMYT

In his remarks, Thomas Payne also highlighted the story of Frank N. Meyer, for whom the award is named. Meyer, an agricultural explorer for the USDA in the 1900s, spent a decade traveling under harsh conditions through China to collect new plant species suitable for production on America’s expanding farmland. Among more than 2,500 plants that he introduced to the U.S. — including varieties of soybeans, oats, wild pears, and asparagus — the Meyer lemon was named in his honor. As Payne pointed out, Meyer worked during a historical period of great scientific discoveries, including those by his contemporaries Marie Curie and the Wright brothers.

Thomas Payne with CIMMYT Director of Genetic Resources Kevin Pixley
Thomas Payne with Head of CIMMYT Maize Germplasm Bank Denise Costich. Photo credit: Kevin Pixley/CIMMYT

Among those attending the ceremony were Thomas Payne’s sister, Susan Payne and CIMMYT colleagues Kevin Pixley, director of Genetic Resources; Denise Costich, head of the CIMMYT Maize Germplasm Bank; and Alexey Morgunov, head of the Turkey-based International Winter Wheat Improvement Program.

The head of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program Hans-Joachim Braun and CIMMYT scientist Alexey Morgunov are also receiving honors or awards this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America. The meeting convenes around 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students to share knowledge and recognition of achievements in the field.

Digital Warning System Boosts Resilience in Bangladesh

Farmers around the world face a constant threat from crop diseases, but digital tools are making it easier for farmers to prepare for outbreaks.

This story by Matt O’Leary was originally published on the USAID Feed the Future blog.

Farmers around the world face constant threats from crop pests and diseases. One such threat is wheat blast, a disease that attacks maturing grains, causing them to shrivel. Fortunately, new advances in technology and modeling are making it easier to identify, prevent and control diseases like this.

Outbreaks of wheat blast in South Asia — a region where people consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year — have a major impact on food security and income. In 2016, a wheat blast outbreak struck South Asia unexpectedly. In Bangladesh alone, 25 to 30 percent of wheat was negatively affected, threatening progress in regional food security. Blast disease has the potential to reduce wheat production by up to 85 million tons in Bangladesh — a projected $13 million loss in farmers’ profits each year when an outbreak occurs.

Luckily, with support from Feed the Future and its partners, there is a reason for hope. A new digital early warning system can help farmers and scientists get ahead. It integrates mathematical models that, when combined with weather forecasts, can simulate disease growth and risks to provide an advanced warning about potential wheat blast outbreaks. With three years of data already recorded, the system — originally piloted in Brazil, where the wheat blast originated in 1985 — is being rolled out across Bangladesh to deliver real-time disease updates to extension workers and smallholder farmers via SMS and voice message.

“Through collaborative research with Professor Jose Mauricio Fernandes, a crop pathologist from Embrapa, and Mr. Felipe de Vargas, a computer scientist with Universidade de Passo Fundo, we have established a model to identify areas at risk of wheat blast infection with five days advanced warning,” said Timothy J. Krupnik, senior scientist and systems agronomist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). “It can provide Bangladesh’s 1.2 million wheat farmers a head start against this disease.”

This data-driven early warning system analyzes environmental conditions for potential disease development in crucial wheat-growing areas of Bangladesh and Brazil. Using this information, the system generates forecast maps and automatic advice for farmers of where and when an outbreak is most likely to strike.

This innovation can also save wheat farmers money. Many apply fungicides on a calendar basis — between two to three times per season — as a preventative measure. This is costly and risks negative environmental effects. Now, the early warning system can push advice to extension agents and farmers, indicating when disease control is really needed.

“Our hope is that it will help reduce unnecessary fungicide use and empower farmers to implement cost-effective and resilient practices to overcome wheat blast risks instead,” Krupnik said.

With wheat as a key crop in Bangladesh, the digital warning system will help prepare farmers to get a head start to reduce the impact of wheat blast with crucial advice from extension agents in areas of need.

New publications: Special collection on wheat genetics and breeding

Researchers present highlights from 40 years of collaboration on wheat genomics, breeding for disease resistance and quality improvement.

This article by Emma Orchardson was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Wheat rust expert Bob McIntosh, of the Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney, Australia, examining rust symptoms on a wheat line in the field at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s (KARI) Njoro research station in Kenya. Photo: CIMMYT/Petr Kosina

Global wheat production is currently facing great challenges, from increasing climate variation to occurrence of various pests and diseases. These factors continue to limit wheat production in a number of countries, including China, where in 2018 unseasonably cold temperatures resulted in yield reduction of more than 10% in major wheat growing regions. Around the same time, Fusarium head blight spread from the Yangtze region to the Yellow and Huai Valleys, and northern China experienced a shortage of irrigated water.

In light of these ongoing challenges, international collaboration, as well as the development of new technologies and their integration with existing ones, has a key role to play in supporting sustainable wheat improvement, especially in developing countries. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has been collaborating with China on wheat improvement for over 40 years, driving significant progress in a number of areas.

Notably, a standardized protocol for testing Chinese noodle quality has been established, as has a methodology for breeding adult-plant resistance to yellow rust, leaf rust and powdery mildew. More than 330 cultivars derived from CIMMYT germplasm have been released in the country and are currently grown over 9% of the Chinese wheat production area, while physiological approaches have been used to characterize yield potential and develop high-efficiency phenotyping platforms. The development of climate-resilient cultivars using new technology will be a priority area for future collaboration.

In a special issue of Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering focused on wheat genetics and breeding, CIMMYT researchers present highlights from global progress in wheat genomics, breeding for disease resistance, as well as quality improvement, in a collection of nine review articles and one research article. They emphasize the significance of using new technology for genotyping and phenotyping when developing new cultivars, as well as the importance of global collaboration in responding to ongoing challenges.

In a paper on wheat stem rust, CIMMYT scientists Sridhar Bhavani, David Hodson, Julio Huerta-Espino, Mandeep Randawa and Ravi Singh discuss progress in breeding for resistance to Ug99 and other races of stem rust fungus, complex virulence combinations of which continue to pose a significant threat to global wheat production. The authors detail how effective gene stewardship and new generation breeding materials, complemented by active surveillance and monitoring, have helped to limit major epidemics and increase grain yield potential in key target environments.

In the same issue, an article by Caiyun Lui et al. discusses the application of spectral reflectance indices (SRIs) as proxies to screen for yield potential and heat stress, which is emerging in crop breeding programs. The results of a recent study, which evaluated 287 elite lines, highlight the utility of SRIs as proxies for grain yield. High heritability estimates and the identification of marker-trait associations indicate that SRIs are useful tools for understanding the genetic basis of agronomic and physiological traits.

Other papers by CIMMYT researchers discuss the history, activities and impact of the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program, as well as the ongoing work on the genetic improvement of wheat grain quality at CIMMYT.

Find the full collection of articles in Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering, Volume 6, Issue 3, September 2019.

Scientists develop an early warning system that delivers wheat rust predictions directly to farmer’s phones

New research describes a revolutionary new early warning system that can predict and mitigate wheat rust diseases in Ethiopia.

One of the researchers behind the study, Yoseph Alemayehu, carries out a field survey in Ethiopia by mobile phone. (Photo Dave Hodson/CIMMYT)

Using field and mobile phone surveillance data together with forecasts for spore dispersal and environmental suitability for disease, an international team of scientists has developed an early warning system which can predict wheat rust diseases in Ethiopia. The cross-disciplinary project draws on expertise from biology, meteorology, agronomy, computer science and telecommunications.

Reported last week in Environmental Research Letters, the new early warning system, which is the first of its kind to be implemented in a developing country, will allow policy makers and farmers all over Ethiopia to gauge the current rust situation and forecast wheat rust up to a week later.

The system was developed by the University of Cambridge, the UK Met Office, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Ethiopia is the largest wheat producer in sub-Saharan Africa but the country still spends in excess of $600 million annually on wheat imports. More can clearly be grown at home and the Ethiopian government has targeted to achieve wheat self-sufficiency by 2023. However increasing yields has its challenges.

One major challenge to wheat production are wheat rusts. The fungal diseases can be dispersed by wind over long distances, quickly causing devastating epidemics which can dramatically reduce wheat yields. Just one outbreak in 2010 affected 30% of Ethiopia’s wheat growing area and reduced production by 15-20%.

The pathogens that cause rust diseases are continually evolving and changing over time, making them difficult to control. “New strains of wheat rust are appearing all the time – a bit like the flu virus,” explained Dave Hodson, principal scientist CIMMYT and co-author of the research study.

In the absence of resistant varieties, one solution to wheat rust is to apply fungicide, however the Ethiopian government has limited supplies. The early warning system will help to prioritize areas at highest risk of the disease, so that the allocation of fungicides can be optimized.

The early warning system works by taking near real-time information from wheat rust surveys carried out by EIAR, regional research centers and CIMMYT using a smartphone app called Open Data Kit (ODK). This is complemented by crowd sourced phone surveys using ATA’s 8028 Farmers’ Hotline. 

The University of Cambridge and the UK Met office then provide automated 7 day advanced forecast models for wheat rust spore dispersal and environmental suitability based on disease presence.

Example of weekly stripe rust spore deposition based on dispersal forecasts. Darker colors represent higher predicted number of spores deposited. (Graphic: University of Cambridge/UK Met Office)

Interestingly, the dispersal model was originally developed by the UK Met Office for volcanic eruptions and nuclear accidents to predict where particles would be dispersed in the air. The University of Cambridge and the UK Met Office then adapted the model to predict where wheat rust spores would be dispersed and to provide a 7-day forecast.

 “It’s world-class science from the UK being applied to real world problems,” said Hodson.

All of this information is fed into an early warning unit that receives updates automatically on a daily basis. An advisory report is sent out every week to development agents and the national authorities and the information also gets passed on to researchers and farmers.

“If there’s a high risk of wheat rust developing, farmers will get a targeted alert by SMS sent by ATA. This gives the farmer about three weeks to take action,” explained Hodson. The ATA Farmers’ Hotline now has over four million farmers and extension agents registered, enabling rapid information dissemination throughout Ethiopia.

“Rust diseases are a grave threat to wheat production in Ethiopia. The timely information from this new system will help us protect farmers’ yields, and reach our goal of wheat self-sufficiency,” said EIAR Director Mandefro Nigussie.

Example of weekly stripe rust environmental suitability forecast. Yellow to Brown show the areas predicted to be most suitable for stripe rust infection. (Graphic: University of Cambridge/UK Met Office)

The system puts Ethiopia at the forefront of early warning systems for wheat rust.

“Nowhere else in the world really has this type of system. It’s fantastic that Ethiopia is leading the way on this,” said Hodson.

At the same time, CIMMYT and partners have been racing to develop wheat rust resistant varieties to allow farmers to avoid the diseases altogether. Recent estimates, based on DNA fingerprinting, indicate that these rust resistant varieties have been widely adopted throughout Ethiopia, and that varietal replacement is occurring frequently. 

The near real-time diagnostics tool MARPLE (Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase diagnostics) is also making huge leaps in wheat rust detection. Strains of yellow rust can be identified in just 48 hours using this suitcase sized kit – a process that normally takes months. The researchers recommended that this new technology be used in conjunction with the Early Warning System, to allow more accurate assessments and predictions of disease spread in Ethiopia.

Read the full article:

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab4034

Read the press release on CIMMYT.org. 

This study was made possible through the support provided by the BBSRC GCRF Foundation Awards for Global Agriculture and Food Systems Research, which brings top class UK science to developing countries, the Delivering Genetic Gains in Wheat (DGGW) Project managed by Cornell University and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The Government of Ethiopia also provided direct support into the early warning system.