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November 13, 2015

Recap provided on behalf of the National Association of Wheat Growers

Last week the grower-leaders of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Association (USW) held their Fall Wheat Conference in western Nevada. Following is a recap of committee meetings. The next NAWG Board and committee meetings will be at the Wheat Industry Winter Conference in Washington, D.C. February 2-6, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.

NAWG Advocates for Swift Congressional Consideration of TPP
Last week, the Obama Administration released the text of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Following initial review, the NAWG Board of Directors and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors together called on Congress to quickly consider the agreement once it is presented to them. The agreement will provide for immediate duty-free access for U.S. wheat in Vietnam and it will create country-specific quotas for additional U.S. wheat exports to Japan. Congressional approval of TPP could also open the door to adding in other countries to the TPP framework. NAWG President Brett Blankenship participated in a press conference Wednesday with USDA Foreign Agricultural Services Administrator Phil Karsting and other agricultural commodity organizations to urge quick Congressional support and action on this important trade deal.

Domestic and Trade Policy Committee
NAWG’s Domestic and Trade Policy Committee heard updates from staff about several pending policy issues including Farm Bill implementation, the impact of the budget agreement on crop insurance, Grain Standards Act reauthorization, immigration reform, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle regulations, among other issues. Additionally, the committee heard from Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, about a number of highway and rail transportation issues affecting the agriculture industry. USDA Deputy Undersecretary Alexis Taylor briefed the Committee on many of the details of the TPP agreement, the text of which was publicly released the morning following the committee meeting.

The committee also approved a resolution that had been previously considered by the Joint International Trade Policy Committee and the USW Board to urge the U.S. Trade Representative to pursue a case before the World Trade Organization (WTO) against any country currently in violation of its international trade commitments. The resolution comes on the heals of a study recently released by USW and NAWG showing that the distorting agricultural support programs in China, India, Turkey, and Brazil are costing U.S. farmers nearly a billion dollars a year in lost revenue.

Joint International Trade Policy Committee
The Joint International Trade Policy Committee heard from NAWG and USW staff about the econometric study commissioned by USW as well as the details of the recently concluded TPP. After reviewing the details of the agreement, the committee urged Congress to take swift action in considering the agreement, once the President officially presents it for consideration.

In addition to reviewing the TPP agreement, the committee heard from Domestic and Trade Policy Committee Vice Chairman Ben Scholz, a Texas wheat grower, about his trip earlier this year to Cuba. Scholz was part of an agricultural trade delegation from Texas to explore potential trade opportunities for U.S. wheat farmers.

Joint Biotechnology Committee
The Joint Biotechnology Committee, consisting of NAWG and USW Board members, heard updates from staff on GMO labeling of food products, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy efforts to update the Coordinated Framework for Biotechnology, and EU member country “opt out” of GM crop cultivation, as well as company updates regarding their current wheat research. Dave Jenkins with EGT presented information on the complex issue of segregation in GM and non-GM grain handling. Mike Firko, Deputy Administrator of APHIS Biotechnology Regulatory Services at USDA, also presented on the proposed changes to GMO wheat field trials. Dr. Firko went in depth regarding his agency’s thought process behind the proposed changes, current crops that are under permitting field trials and answered questions regarding the proposed change.

Environment and Renewable Resources Committee
NAWG’s Environment and Renewable Energy Committee met to discuss environmental regulation and conservation efforts impacting wheat growers. During the meeting, the committee heard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the proposed pesticide certification regulation. The committee will be preparing written comments for NAWG to submit prior to the December 23 deadline. The committee also discussed legislation and legal actions surrounding the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation developed by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The committee will be reaching out to USDA regarding the inconsistent administration of the Conservation Stewardship Program between counties and states. Finally, the committee is exploring issues related to drought in the Western wheat growing areas, and creative ideas to help mitigate the effects of the drought that could benefit wheat growers.

Research and Technology Committee
NAWG’s Research and Technology Committee had a packed agenda. The committee reviewed the concern of the National Wheat Improvement Committee regarding USDA Agricultural Research Service funding cutbacks affecting Quality Labs across the wheat belt. The committee also discussed the practice of shifting funds away from field stations and other agronomic research by the USDA ARS, without any input from NAWG, to other areas of need that are deemed a higher priority. The committee approved a proposed policy resolution designed to encourage USDA ARS to avoid this practice in the future.

In addition, Kellye Eversole, CEO of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, updated the committee on the progress of sequencing the wheat genome and Dr. Mike Firko, APHIS Deputy Administrator, discussed current biotech regulations and plans for future changes to regulations that will impact GMO wheat research.

NAWG Industry Partners Council
The semi-annual meeting of the NAWG Industry Partners Council, comprised of companies and organizations providing products and services to U.S. wheat growers and the wheat value chain, met adjacent to the 2015 Fall Wheat Conference on November 3. Tim O’Connor, the recently appointed president of the Wheat Foods Council, provided the featured presentation. O’Connor provided information about the Council, how it operates, the current issues related to the various wheat foods, and how the Council is working to favorably resolve those issues.

October 20, 2014

Article by Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer

Wheat scientists and breeders at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue on Friday pushed for more research programs for the crop and stressed that genetic engineering will be needed to grow more wheat in the future.

One of the final panel discussions at the week-long symposium tackled wheat production and rust diseases that plague the crop globally. The panel was reflective of the core of Nobel Prize laureate Norman Borlaug’s life’s work to breed more disease-resistant and higher-yielding varieties of wheat in developing countries. Borlaug helped end some of the scientific complacency in dealing with diseases such as rust.

Panel members focused on an issue Borlaug rarely faced: Having a technology — genetic engineering — that they know can help prevent famine but that is unacceptable in much of the world due to fear.

At the center of the panel discussion was Ug99, one of the most devastating wheat rusts. The disease got its designation after being discovered in Uganda in 1999. It’s a potent rust that can take 100% of a crop and attacks varieties bred to be resistant to other forms of stem rust. Ug99 is still affecting farmers in most East Africa countries, as well as Yemen and Iran. Several strains of Ug99-resistant varieties have been released in North Africa and the Middle East in recent years to help curb the spread of the Ug99 rust globally.

A consortium of companies and wheat breeders has come together to raise the yield potential of wheat by 50% over the next 20 years. Hans Joachim Braun, director of the Global Wheat Program for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known as CIMMYT, was optimistic about work on wheat rust, but he acknowledged complacency is a problem. “Wheat is really relatively underinvested compared to other crops,” Braun said.

Ronnie Coffman, a plant breeding professor at Cornell University, leads a five-year project about Ug99 that was funded by a $40 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom. The project, which includes dozens of governments, universities and research facilities globally, is looking for wheat genes resistant to stem rust, ways to track the disease and ways to get stem-rust resistant seeds to farmers in countries hit by Ug99.

Coffman said the science is there to deliver rust resistance, but scientists do not have the support from society to provide the science to farmers. To combat virulent rust strains such as Ug99, scientists must discover and successfully transfer multiple resistance genes, Coffman said.

“We need GM technology to do that, initially,” Coffman said.

Cornell also has used $5.6 million in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to start “the Alliance for Science” with the goal of trying to depolarize the debate around ag biotechnology and promote science to decision makers.

“We have two big objectives. One is to try to reclaim the conversation around biotechnology so that science and evidence-based perspectives surround the decision-making,” Coffman said.

The second objective is to “populate the science” with effective communicators, Coffman said. The alliance wants to develop communications training and activities for people who work in biotech and food production. “We all need to communicate better,” Coffman said. “It’s essential.”

Market sensitivity has been the main hindrance preventing commercialization of any biotech wheat varieties. Groups such as the National Association of Wheat Growers support work on biotech crops, but wheat sellers learned how sensitive U.S. wheat buyers are to genetic engineering when a small amount of unapproved biotech wheat was found in an Oregon field last year. Buyers in Japan and South Korea immediately slowed purchases and began testing wheat for GE contamination.

The U.S. exports roughly half of its wheat production a year, including an estimated 1.17 billion bushels this year. Globally, about 166 million tons of wheat are projected for exports this year.

Public acceptance could be even more difficult trying to introduce biotech varieties in parts of Africa and Asia facing the worst rust issues.

Catherine Feuillet, senior vice president of trait research for Bayer CropScience, also serves as a co-chair of an international wheat sequencing consortium. Feuillet, who works to identify disease resistance genes for wheat breeders to use, said wheat is much more complex than other crops. It took Feuillet a decade to isolate one wheat gene. Feuillet said biotechnology could accelerate improvements in wheat.

“If we face a major virus infestation in wheat and the only solution is GM, should we just not do it and let wheat be killed by the virus?” Feuillet said. “This is one of the disconnections I see. People are not concerned about this kind of problem because they have cheap food all of the time. People in poorer countries do not have the luxury for these kinds of debates.”

In September, Bayer CropScience announced a plan to spend roughly $1.9 billion through 2020 for research and development in wheat. Over the next 20 years, research should lead to both wheat hybrids and biotech traits to boost global production. However, Feuillet acknowledges potential market sensitivity to adding biotech wheat crops to global markets.

“I think we are facing really big challenges here and I am a scientist, so I have to look at this rationally,” she said. “It is a resource we can use. I think if we give up completely, we are missing an opportunity. As a scientist, I think we have to keep working on it.”

Feuillet, who is French, works between Bayer facilities in Research Triangle, N.C., and Ghent, Belgium. She said work in Europe is frustrating and almost nothing biotech can be tested in Europe.

“Most of the companies don’t see any hope of doing anything in Europe anymore. For me, as a European, I don’t see this as a great view, but we have to continue to deal with it,” she said.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.


By Wheat Foods Council 

About Gluten

Gluten is a major plant protein containing gliadin and glutenin, present in wheat, barley, and rye and their many ancient ancestors. Gluten provides structure for baked products requiring volume such as bread. However, various fractions may trigger an auto- immune reaction in individuals who carry a gene for celiac disease. These individuals must eliminate gluten containing grains which are wheat, rye, barley and uncertified gluten-free oats.

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease (CD), is an intolerance to gluten. It is not an allergy, but an auto-immune disease with a multitude of possible symptoms. To determine if one has CD, first a blood test is needed to determine if specific antibodies are present and if so, then an intestinal biopsy is essential to confirm a CD diagnosis.

• Less than 1% of the U.S. population is affected by CD, or about 3 million Americans.

• There has been a rise in CD (as have all autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, autism, multiple sclerosis, etc.) which may be due to improved testing methods or greater public and health professional awareness. The genes for CD are hereditary therefore multiplying those who will have CD. There are several additional environmental-based theories currently being researched:

– Less breast feeding (antibodies are not passed to the infant)
– Introducing gluten too early/too much to an infant who is no longer breast feeding
– Keeping children too aseptic so they don’t build up antibodies
– Excess gluten in the food supply
– Shortened fermentation times for commercial bread
– Food borne infections and viruses
– Increased incidence of cesarean births as the infant does not receive the bacterial flora
– Excessive use of antibiotics and antacids
– Excessive salt intake
– And the most probable reason: changes in our gut bacteria

• Symptoms vary widely and may include intestinal discomfort, poor absorption of nutrients (iron, calcium and B vitamins in particular), poor growth for children, loss of weight, osteoporosis and when extreme, malnutrition.

Label Reading is Essential

• If you have confirmed CD, products with the following ingredients should be avoided: wheat, barley, rye, uncertified oats, farina, flour, enriched flour, cereal, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, malt flavoring or extracts, modified food starch, emulsifiers, stabilizers, malted vinegar, semolina, durum, spelt, Kamut® and triticale. This list is not all inclusive.

• In 2007, FDA proposed that gluten-free should only be labeled on foods containing under 20 mg per kg (20 ppm).
Although this rule has yet to be finalized (April 2013),many companies are already voluntarily using this standard.

Non-Celiac Gluten-Sensitivity (NCGS)

• New research estimates from 1- 6 percent of Americans are sensitive to gluten, but do not have the offending gene needed to develop CD or damage the intestinal tract. Many with NCGS have not been diagnosed. Many professionals believe some who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) actually have NCGS, which may account for the relief they may get from eliminating gluten in their diet.

• There is currently no test available to diagnose NCGS. Therefore, it is recommended you determine how much gluten you can tolerate and hopefully still enjoy some of your favorite foods.

• At the very least 93% of the population (and probably more) can include gluten-containing foods in their diet. For the vast majority, going gluten-free is unnecessary and expensive. Gluten-free foods, on average, cost about 242% more than their regular gluten-containing counterparts.

• Research has shown that gluten is actually helpful for healthy gut bacteria in individuals who can tolerate it.

Addressing the Claims

Claim 1: Gluten-free diets are good for weight reduction or maintenance.
Reality: Gluten-free grains have no caloric advantage over gluten containing grains (wheat, barley and rye). All carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Gluten-free foods are often higher in fat and sugar, and are often lower in fiber, which may actually lead to weight gain.

Claim 2: Gluten-free products are healthier than those containing gluten.
• Many gluten-free products are refined starches which have not been enriched with B vitamins (including folic acid) and iron. Alternative whole grains are available, but rarely consumed.
• Gluten-free diets often lack various nutrients such as iron, calcium, many B vitamins (including folic acid), zinc, magnesium, and a host of other nutrients found in wheat, barley and rye products.
• For those without CD or NCGS, this diet is unnecessarily expensive, restrictive and may cause harm by eliminating
healthy gut and colon bacteria.

Claim 3: Genetically modified wheat could be the cause of an increase in the incidence in CD and gluten sensitivity.
Reality: Genetically modified wheat is not present in the world food supply and, therefore cannot be blamed for the increase.


There is no scientific reason to eliminate gluten from the diet other than for those with intestinal biopsy confirmed celiac disease or severe NCGS.

It may come as a surprise to some farmers, but at any given hour of the day there is probably someone, somewhere, talking about the quality, reliability and value of U.S. wheat. All of this is thanks to the partnership between the Texas Wheat Producers Board, other state wheat organizations and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), the overseas marketing arm of the wheat industry. USW currently operates 17 foreign offices and works with customers in more than 100 countries. To prove the point, we’ve put together highlights from activities held this spring around the world to promote U.S. wheat in an ever more complex world grain market.

USW participated in the launch of “Flourish Pilipinas – Bake it fun in the Philippines” as part of a successful, long-term initiative to support local milling and baking organizations in its efforts to promote wheat foods consumption. This yearlong campaign, co-sponsored by the Philippine Department of Tourism and U.S. wheat customer URC Flour Mill, will include baking and recipe competitions, a four-city baking academy roadshow and a World Bread Day fair.

Eleven bakers and research and development managers from China participated in an eight-day Frozen Dough Workshop at the Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) in Portland, OR. The team members represented three flour mills and major bakery chains in the Yangtze River Delta Region and coastal Fujian Province. Guo Ji Guang, the chairman of Fujian Province’s Fumao Bakery Enterprises, said the course was a great opportunity for bakers and millers to study baking technology together.

Thirty-three USW partners are receiving flour samples this month as part of USW’s Overseas Varietal Analysis (OVA) program. Partners will analyze and compare samples to their current commercial flours based on flour quality and end product performance. Bakery Consultant Roy Chung (USW/ Singapore) organized an annual OVA Technical Seminar in March to bring cooperators from seven mills in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia together to run quality tests on 30 varieties from four classes of wheat. Cooperators in Europe, Asia, Latin and Central America, Africa and the Middle East will begin evaluating flour samples of HRW, SRW, HRS, SW and durum wheat.

Two master bakers and two flour millers from Korea participated in a Whole Wheat Research Baking Short Course in February at the WMC. The team evaluated whole wheat bakery products – including pan breads, pita breads
and crackers – using blends of HRS, HRW and SW wheat. Participants also visited a local bakery to learn about artisan baking for baguettes, French rolls and sourdough breads.

The Taiwan Provincial Bakers Associations (TPBA) is celebrating its 65th anniversary. Established in 1948, the TPBA includes 14 local bakers associations from 14 counties in Taiwan. USW has worked with TPBA for 30 years to organize baking seminars and promote healthy bakery products. To join in the celebration, USW is providing TPBA with articles on joint activities for a commemorative magazine TPBA is publishing for its anniversary.

USW Assistant Regional Director Gerald Theus (USW/Cape Town) met with flour milling groups in Accra, Ghana, to discuss wheat imports. Ghana has imported 47,000 MT of HRW so far in 2012/13, up 26 percent from the same period last year. In 2011/12, Ghana imported a total of 493,000 metric tons (MT) of wheat, including 73,000 MT from the United States. Mills in Ghana are looking for U.S. wheat to blend with competitor wheat to produce viable French-type baguette flour. Instant noodles, a highly successful trend in Nigeria, are also expected to expand into Ghana, an ideal use for HRW.

USW Santiago staff helped organize a trip for three Bunge Brazil executives to visit Manhattan, KS, in early April, including Manager of Wheat Origination Edson Csipai. Bunge is the largest milling company in Brazil, importing 1.5 MMT of wheat annually. Stops included the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, the International Grains Program, USDA’s Center for Grain and Animal Health Research, AIB International and a wheat farm near Manhattan.

“The worst I’ve ever seen,” was a phrase commonly heard during regional freeze injury assessment meetings held throughout the Rolling Plains and Panhandle this spring.

Agronomists, extension agents and wheat researchers agreed that damage sustained from five significant freeze events that rolled through the Texas High Plains during March and April was widespread but also highly variable. Farmers from across the region showed up carrying samples of limp, discolored wheat, but freezing temperatures were not the only battle the 2013 wheat crop faced.

“The lack of moisture throughout the winter was worse on my wheat,” said David Cleavinger, a farmer in Wildorado.

“The freezing temperatures were just the nail in the coffin.”

The first bout of freezing temperatures occurred during the second week in April and wreaked the most havoc on the Rolling Plains crop.

“In February my wheat was the best I had ever seen,” said Wichita Falls farmer Fred Dwyer. “By the end of April, that same wheat was toast due to freeze injury and rainfall that never came.”

According to Texas A&M AgriLife wheat breeder Dr. Jackie Rudd, several variety trial locations in the High Plains were severely damaged.

“Each of the first three freezes took their toll, but the freeze on April 24 was the most damaging,” said Rudd. “When evaluating one particular variety trial location, most of the heads were dead in the places we checked. Wheat at the Bushland station was better, but I still estimate well over a 50 percent loss there.”

Freezing temperatures continued sporadically through early May in the Texas Panhandle overshadowing the news of the continuing lack of moisture.

The loss of grain yield potential from freeze injury presented additional challenges for farmers as they made production decisions on the wheat left in the field.

According to Texas Wheat Vice President for Legislative Affairs Kody Bessent, there are currently no rules in the Loss Adjustment Manual, the document which governs crop insurance practices, to assess yield loss in wheat prior to heading of the plant.

“Most of the wheat in the Panhandle was in the joint or boot stage when the freezes occurred,” said Bessent. “In some fields the damage, especially damage to the stem of the plant, was clearly visible; however, without the proper rules in place crop adjusters were not able to release acres because of the early state of maturity.”

The need for speedy crop insurance adjustment was quickly acknowledged as a top need for producers and the Texas Wheat Producers Association began working with other groups to form solutions.

“We’ve been working closely with the Risk Management Agency, members of the U.S. House and Senate and local groundwater districts to highlight the need for action in damaged wheat crops,” said Bessent.

Many producers also expressed concern over a possible lack of seed for fall planting.

“When you look at deteriorating crop conditions across several key wheat regions you start worrying about the availability and quality of seed wheat,” said Jody Bellah, a farmer in Throckmorton.

The Texas Wheat Producers Board has been involved in industry discussions aimed at expanding the amount of certified seed available for 2013 planting.

In early May, the National Agricultural Statistics Service released their first estimate for Texas Winter Wheat production. The statewide estimate came in at 54 million bushels, down 44 percent from 2012. Production in the Texas High Plains was estimated at 6.70 million bushels, down 77 percent from last year.

Wheat farmers, researchers, millers and bakers were Washington, D.C., last week to deliver a simple message to Members of Congress: there is no more to cut from federal funding for agriculture research.

The 35 wheat industry visitors, including a dozen growers and 10 milling and baking representatives, are spreading that message as part of an annual fly-in focusing on wheat research, sponsored by the National Wheat Improvement Committee, a group of wheat scientists and stakeholders, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the North American Millers’ Association and the American Bakers Association.

Key facts they are sharing with policy makers on Capitol Hill key include:

  • Funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will be down 12 percent since the federal government’s 2010 fiscal year, assuming modest increases proposed in the Obama Administration’s FY2013 budget are adopted.
  • In FY2011 alone, $180 million was cut and not restored due to the elimination of earmarked spending.
  • A few weeks ago, university researchers learned that funding they receive from ARS would be cut by 30 percent to help cover costs associated with carrying out Congress’ instructions to close 12 labs.
  • Despite demonstrated return on investment of up to $32 to $1, just 1.6 percent of the $142 billion annual federal investment in research goes to agriculture research, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

For wheat industry stakeholders who depend on public funding, this is a disturbing trend. While private companies are investing more money in wheat than ever before, public researchers undertake vital basic science, and more than three-quarters of wheat acres in the United States are planted with varieties produced through the public system. Public programs, particularly those that work in collaboration with land-grant universities, also focus on addressing local or regional problems.

“Farmers are steadily increasing their ability to produce more food with less resources, but we will rely on new research and technology to meet the needs of a growing population,” said Texas Wheat Producers Association Executive Assistant Kody Bessent, who participated in the fly-in. “Funding for wheat research is pivotal for the future of agriculture in Texas and the security of the domestic food supply.”

Fly-in participants are specifically asking Members to support the Obama Administration’s requests for $1.103 billion in funding for ARS and $325 million in funding for USDA’s premier competitive grant programs, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

As Congress prepares to finalize a 2012 Farm Bill, fly-in participants are also asking Members to ensure reauthorization of the AFRI grant program and the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI), a collaboration of public, private and federal researchers fighting the disease Fusarium head blight, or scab.

“We’ve come to Washington, D.C., many times over the years, but this visit is particularly urgent,” said Dr. Brett Carver, a wheat breeder at Oklahoma State University and NWIC chair. “Research is a long-term process that needs long-term funding. We are seeing increased investments from private companies and farmers themselves, but federal agencies still play an irreplaceable role in ensuring we can develop the best possible varieties for farmers.”

Much more about wheat research needs and the wheat research community is at

Kay Ledbetter, Texas AgriLife Communications

Being able to pinpoint molecular mechanisms within a wheat plant to help researchers select for drought tolerance and quality might be the most important aspect of a new Texas AgriLife Research and Bayer CropScience agreement, officials say.

“The advancement of technology to support the development of crop varieties is essential to the health and prosperity of the state, nation and the world,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “This multi-year agreement is fundamental to that goal.”

Drought tolerance and tortillas or other flat breads are projects targeted for collaboration, said Dr. Mark Hussey, vice chancellor and dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences of the Texas A&M System.

“It is essential that we develop strategic, focused areas of collaboration with major corporate partners in order to maintain and grow our wheat and small grains program,” Hussey said. “This will help ensure we remain connected to the marketplace for the benefit of growers, producers and consumers.”

“We believe our collaboration with Texas AgriLife will help to advance global improvement of wheat genetics and quality, and is particularly important for our focus on key traits like drought tolerance and disease resistance,” said Dr. Mike Gilbert of Lubbock, head of breeding and trait development for Bayer CropScience.

Dr. Craig Nessler, AgriLife Research director, said this will give worldwide exposure to the Texas A&M System wheat improvement programs of AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. In addition, it builds a strategic research and development relationship with a company that shares AgriLife’s dedication to crop improvement.

This agreement will allow researchers to utilize biotechnology to make a concentrated effort on drought tolerance for Texas wheat producers, Nessler said, while providing Bayer with non-exclusive access to some of AgriLife Research’s wheat breeding materials to build into its germplasm base.

The 2011 drought highlighted the importance of drought-tolerance traits when Texas wheat producers saw the second smallest crop in recent history, said Rodney Mosier, Texas Wheat Producers executive vice president in Amarillo. Production only reached 49.4 million bushels, less than half that of an average year.

“Funding research to develop high-yielding, drought-tolerant, disease- and insect-resistant varieties for Texas producers has always been a top priority of the Texas Wheat Producers Board,” said Mosier. “We are pleased to see the development of this partnership and look forward to continued investment in Texas wheat research.”

See the rest of the story here

It is no secret to anyone in Texas that 2011 has been dry, windy and hot. Therefore, it came as no surprise in early August when Texas State Climatologist Dr. John Nielson-Gammon declared 2011 to be the most severe one-year drought on record. In fact, data from the National Climatic Data Center labeled July 2011 as the warmest month ever recorded statewide.

Raging wildfires, damage-inducing winds and scorching temperatures have all combined to deplete any remaining soil moisture throughout the state. To further complicate the situation, wheat producers should be preparing to plant wheat seed in hopes of growing those often-referenced amber waves of grain, but most find themselves at a standoff with Mother Nature.

“Right now we are preparing our fields to plant wheat, but we will not plant unless we get significant rain,” said Jack Norman, a wheat producer in Howe, Texas.

Norman’s region could be described as one of the “lucky ones”. The area received enough rainfall to plant and establish a decent wheat crop for 2011 until the middle of May when the rain faucet shut off.

“We have cracks in the ground so large you could get lost in them,” said Norman.

Norman’s situation is not unique; producers across the state are holding off on planting their acres in hopes of rain. In the Panhandle and Rolling Plains region, where dual-purpose wheat is very popular, the delay in planting is causing even more heartburn.

The prospects for wheat grazing this fall are almost completely gone and cattle producers are left with few options as the drought and wildfires have led to a shortage of grass and hay.

Texas Drought Monitor Map

With the current state of drought still crippling the state it is hard to find a silver lining, but advancements in wheat research may be the answer.

According to Jackie Rudd, the Texas AgriLife project leader of the hard winter wheat breeding program, the unique growing conditions of 2011 provided excellent results for drought-tolerance research.

“We have an excellent research team that took full advantage of this year’s extreme drought and high temperatures,” Rudd said. “This research WILL lead to increased heat and drought tolerance in wheat”.

Several common varieties now available have drought and/or heat tolerance within their genetic makeup. In fact, TAM 111 and TAM 112, two of the most popular varieties in the High Plains, boast superior performance in drought conditions although they have different mechanisms for managing the stress. One variety has a deeper root structure and can better utilize deep soil moisture, while the other simply uses water more efficiently.

Despite significant advances in wheat breeding technology, even wheat breeders like Rudd prefer to see genetic performance in the field, not under a microscope.

“The best way to evaluate drought performance is to grow wheat at many locations under drought stress,” said Rudd. “We have to see the product in the field.”

This year, the research team was able to coordinate a grow out of several key varieties under varying levels of irrigation without the interference of rainfall. The absence of precipitation allowed the team to record yields which ranged from 10 bushels per acre to 66 bushels per acre based on irrigation levels alone. The data obtained from the trial will be an essential piece of the puzzle in further drought-related research.

“We will continue to make incremental gains through traditional breeding techniques,” said Rudd, “especially with the data we collected this year.”

Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas Wheat Producers Board have worked together for years to coordinate and fund wheat drought-tolerance research. Currently there are more than 35 scientists and support scientists working on wheat heat and drought-tolerance in Texas.

Although most wheat growers won’t look back on the past year with fond memories, progress has been made and wheat producers are now one step closer to better-performing, more consistent wheat genetics.

The 2010 results of the Uniform Wheat Variety Trials have been posted.  Variety trial information from all locations can be found at

The trials, funded in part by the Texas Wheat Producers Board, provide growers with an accurate depiction of wheat variety performance within a specific region and under varying environments.

Earlier this week Monstanto Company announced it is expanding its strong seeds and traits portfolio to include wheat.

The company has acquired the assets of WestBred, LLC, a Montana-based company that specializes in wheat germplasm, the crop’s seed genetic material. The investment will bolster the future growth of Monsanto’s seeds and traits platform and allow farmers to benefit from the company’s experience in drought-, disease- and pest-tolerance innovations.

“The U.S. wheat industry has come together to call for new technology investment, and we believe we have game-changing technologies – like our drought-tolerance and improved-yield traits – that can meaningfully address major challenges wheat growers face every season,” said Carl Casale, executive vice president of global strategy and operations for Monsanto. “Through WestBred, we’ll be able to deliver advances in breeding and biotechnology to deliver a step-change in yield while creating a springboard for new partnerships and collaboration opportunities that create additional value for farmers.”

Additional details about the announcement can be found at

The wheat industry followed the announcement with the following statement:

The U.S. wheat industry welcomes the announcement today by Monsanto that it will restart its investment in research on development of biotechnology traits in wheat.

The research challenges facing wheat are well known, as is the importance of this crop to world food supplies. This announcement comes at a time when basic research into agronomic improvements to wheat is critically needed.

Over the past months and years, we have repeatedly voiced our support for biotechnology and outlined appropriate conditions for commercialization. We have also pressed trait providers to examine this issue carefully.

The industry is pleased that Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, as well as publicly-funded institutions such as the Kansas Innovation Center for Advanced Plant Design and CSIRO in Australia, have recently announced new wheat research investments, and we urge other organizations to follow suit.