Minimising growing risks needs to be given as much priority as maximising output in modern cereal improvement programmes, according to Europe’s Number One wheat breeder.
“Efforts to improve UK wheats must be focused at least as much on maximum yield preservation in the face of today’s field risks as on maximum yield potential under official trial conditions,” stressed RAGT Seeds senior wheat breeder, Ed Flatman at a specialist early summer briefing.
“Increasingly variable seasons, growing disease threats and ever-greater financial and workload pressures make wheat varieties that are sufficiently robust to deliver the goods reliably every year without ideal agronomy more important than ever. In particular, our focus must be on varieties that don’t require spraying programmes to be spot on to prevent problems with Septoria, yellow rust, blossom midge or lodging.
“Varieties like newly Recommended, Warrior, for instance. As well as delivering an official treated yield within a few points of the best Group 3, it boasts the highest untreated yield of any listed variety – fully 6% ahead of its nearest biscuit wheat rival and 17% up on Robigus – courtesy of the best foliar disease resistance package on the market.
“At the same time, it has a notably broad disease resistance base, as high a resistance to lodging without PGR as it does with chemical assistance, and resistance to wheat orange blossom midge,” he pointed out. “All of which make for reduced wheat production risk and increased agronomic flexibility at no cost in commercial performance.”
Warrior is the latest result of the cutting edge wheat development programme at RAGT Seeds concentrating on the four major yield-sapping risks – diseases, pests, lodging and climatic stress. In each case the goal is to build the greatest possible level of risk minimisation without compromising overall yield potential.
“We’re doing this by breeding in increasingly broad resistance to yellow and brown rust as well as Septoria, stacking partial as well as major genes to provide high levels of disease defence unlikely to suffer significantly as the pathogens adapt,” Ed Flatman explained.
“In exactly the same way, our team is progressively improving the ability of wheat to sustainably resist or tolerate key pests, lodging and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns.”
As well as pushing Septoria tritici resistance scores beyond the current ceiling of 7 and raising Fusarium resistance to the same levels, the RAGT Seeds programme is currently exploring alternatives source of resistance to wheat orange blossom midge and ways of combating its close relation, yellow blossom midge.
Physiological improvements to minimise the risk of both root and stem lodging are also being actively investigated, together with genetics to build increasing tolerance to drought and water-logging, and greater efficiency of nitrogen utilisation.
“There’s sufficient genetic variation in a wide range of risk minimisation characters for us to work on,” said Ed Flatman. “And the combination of the seven million-plus segregating winter wheat lines we have each year in our European network and sophisticated marker-assisted breeding is allowing us to exploit this far more rapidly and reliably than ever before.
“In addition to the considerable progress we are making in utilising key disease and pest resistance genes, we are confident of delivering marker-assisted partial resistance to the most important wheat diseases within the coming five years. We have also identified markers of potential value in enhancing lodging resistance and combating climatic stress.”
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