Feeding the World, One Wheat Variety at a Time

Globally, we€™re in a position where demand for wheat is surpassing supply. Figures from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) show wheat demand growing by 1.5 per cent per year, while annual production is increasing by only 0.9 per cent. With the global population expected to rise to over 9 billion by 2050, and the reliance on cereals as a staple food product, it€™s clear that to feed the world something needs to be done to bring the potential of this vital food crop to life.

For me, it€™s this challenge €“ or as I like to look at it, opportunity €“ that makes this an exciting time to be involved in cereals at all levels, globally, nationally and locally. As Canadians, we have a lot going for us. We have the land base, climate and natural resources to produce high quality cereals. But that€™s not all. We also have a strong history in cereal production. We€™re sharply focussed on research and development. And, we have a sophisticated handling infrastructure. It€™s all this that makes us well placed to act on the opportunity to advance cereal varieties and technologies that will help achieve sustainable world supply that€™s in line with rising demand.

But, we still need to do more to truly unlock the potential of wheat. As an industry, we need to transform wheat production worldwide by creating new technology platforms (for plant breeding, genomics and crop protection) that set the gold standard for yield, quality and sustainability in cereal production.

I strongly believe that one of the keys to success is collaboration and partnerships between public and private institutions. Through collaboration we can achieve technological advancements faster and more efficiently than we can accomplish alone. Already, many of these partnerships are taking life across the industry at a global scale through organizations such as CIMMYT, and at a more local level through public cereal breeding programs with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada or the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatoon. Partnerships which reach out past the agriculture industry also play an important role as sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems are often a common goal. In fact, this month I have the opportunity to speak at the Agriculture 2.0 conference in Toronto, which is designed in part to help foster relationships, research partnerships and financial investment for the purpose of advances in sustainable agriculture.

But working together is only one piece. Technology is also critical. Over the short term, Canadian cereal breeders are making significant headway through traditional breeding to introduce new improved, varieties with the benefits most important for Canadian farmers, like yield and disease resistance. For example, immediate variety breeding is underway to combine high-yielding characteristics from US varieties together with the high quality characteristics of Canadian wheat, allowing growers the opportunity to capture higher yields similar to our southern neighbours, without sacrificing the quality for which Canadian wheat is known.

Growing more from less in order to feed the more sophisticated food demands of the world€™s growing population is the new reality. It€™s my belief that, in order to meet the heightened demands of 2050, cereal breeders are going to have to reach beyond traditional breeding and harness new crop development technologies that will allow for the production of more, higher quality foods produced in a sustainable way. Hybrid development and adoption alone would revolutionize cereal production by offering growers significant increases in yield and plant vigour. Winter hybrid barley, which Syngenta created and introduced abroad, has already helped accomplish this for farmers in the United Kingdom. In fact, 80 per cent of Guinness Beer and Single Malt Scotch is now made using this winter hybrid barley.

All this said, no one has a crystal ball that can tell us exactly where we€™re going and how to get there. We need to work with what we know. The population is growing. Wheat holds significant untapped potential to help feed this population. I truly believe that collaboration and innovation will help bring its potential to life.

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