Developments are underway to make this a reality
Winter wheat has major environmental benefits. It helps reduce wind and water based
soil erosion, out competes many weeds, and generally conserves energy because of
the fewer field operations.
Despite these and other benefits, spring wheat, and in particular the Canada Western
Red Spring (CWRS) class, is western Canada's most popular type. World renowned for
its excellent milling and baking quality, CWRS often garners a premium price in
Winter wheat is planted in the fall and resumes growth in the spring. As a result,
winter wheat is able to take advantage of fall rain and winter snow unlike spring
wheat, which is (as the name suggests) planted in the spring.
The Canada Western Red Winter (CWRW) wheat class has some inherent advantages that
Dr. Robert Graf, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist, is particularly
interested in building upon. In western Canada, winter wheat produces about 25%
more grain than its spring wheat counterparts. It has exceptional milling characteristics
that produce a high percentage of bright white, low ash flour (both desirable qualities
in the marketplace), however its baking qualities are not quite as good as those
of CWRS, resulting in a lower market price.
Graf explains that this project is all about improving returns to the producer by
reducing the price difference between the two types of wheat. To close this gap,
his goal is to develop winter wheat varieties that incorporate more of the characteristics
that bakers and millers look for in premium quality spring wheat. The result will
ideally fetch a higher price in the market.
"If farmers could capture 25% more yield in a product that gives them a similar
return as our Canada Western Red Spring wheat class, they'd be more compelled to
grow winter wheat because ultimately it would mean a huge boost in average revenue."
- Dr. Robert Graf, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
To accomplish this, Graf and his team have been working to increase the grain's
protein concentration, gluten strength and flour water absorption. Graf says that
one of the major challenges was to find suitable winter wheat parents. Despite looking
at germplasm from around the world, "there were no winter wheat lines that combined
all of the improvements that we needed," he says.
Graf says that it takes a lot of patience, a good eye, and a bit of luck. He has
studied thousands of experimental wheat lines to find the qualities preferred by
everyone from producers to end-processors. Methodically he crossbred these lines
to gradually incorporate the desirable traits and develop a select number of parent
lines. His team now has its first prototype into registration trials and, while
it may not yet be CWRS quality, it demonstrates major progress and is a platform
for future advancements.
Graf predicts that we could have winter wheat varieties for western Canada with
"CWRS-like" quality within the next decade.
"In winter wheat breeding, from the time you make a cross to the time it's in farmers
hands, is usually 12-15 years. In the case of this project, we didn't really have
the parents to start the breeding process to take us there. We're just now at the
cusp of starting to deliver some of those advancements." - Dr. Robert Graf, Research
Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Once developed, this improved winter wheat will provide a new option for farmers
in western Canada to increase farm revenue while maintaining Canada's excellent
reputation for wheat quality.
- A research team in Alberta is working to combine spring wheat's superior baking
and milling characteristics with winter wheat's higher yield and environmental benefits.
- When successful, the adoption of this new type of premium quality winter wheat will
increase farmer revenue while maintaining premium product quality.