Wheat research takes coordinated effort
Past investment into wheat research has given farmers new wheat varieties, disease and insect resistance and agronomic improvements, plus improved quality for millers and bakers throughout the world. For more than 50 years, Kansas farmers--and other wheat producers from across the nation--have supported research from land-grant universities and the USDA through each state's wheat checkoff program. In the last few decades, however, state and federal dollars towards wheat research have been dramatically reduced, leaving checkoff funds to pick up the slack.
Continued development of wheat varieties and technologies is crucial to the long-term viability of wheat production in the United States, and the effort has gained a boost with the recent entry into wheat variety and technology development by several private firms.
Sorting through research priorities from public and private entities falls at the feet of Jane DeMarchi, director of government affairs for research and technology for the National Association of Wheat Growers. DeMarchi joined NAWG in June, filling a new position dedicated to tracking current research, reviewing funding needs and developing research priorities throughout the entire wheat industry. NAWG has set a goal of increasing wheat yields for U.S. wheat producers at least 20% by 2018; to reach that goal, the collaborative efforts of private and public wheat researchers is necessary.
"We are looking for the private investment to be additive to the overall research picture," DeMarchi says. "We've done a good job of communicating to the technology providers what we'd like to see in future innovation for wheat. We have to make sure that all the research going on right now is directed towards moving the crop forward."
DeMarchi, who spoke to wheat growers at the annual Fall Meeting of NAWG and the U.S. Wheat Associates in Minneapolis last week, says many state wheat commissions have committed to working together on variety development and other research proposals. This is one step toward leveraging research resources; another is to bring the private firms into the fold.
"I do think there is an opportunity for greater collaboration between the researchers themselves or between states on a regional basis, to make sure that money spent is spent as efficiently as possible so that everyone can learn from the research that's being done," DeMarchi says. "We don't need every program doing everything. We need to focus where the best research is being done and then on a regional basis have people being able to take advantage of that."
Research priorities in coming years include the introduction of biotech traits to wheat varieties, an industry-wide effort to solve the Ug99 stem rust disease and continued yield, quality and agronomic improvement of varieties. These efforts require the combined effort of public and private, state and federal researchers and funds.
"There's a tremendous amount of pressure on agriculture research funding. From wheat's perspective, we are already underfunded. We can't afford further cuts," DeMarchi says.