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Major breakthroughs needed for increase in wheat yield

  • Published at 01:32 am July 25th, 2019
International Wheat Congress 2019-Saskatoon, Canada-Reaz Ahmad
The International Wheat Congress 2019's inaugural ceremony in progress at Saskatoon, Canada on Monday, July 22, 2019 Reaz Ahmad

Canada declares $117m funding for wheat genomic research

Major scientific breakthroughs are necessary for increase of wheat crop production, so that one of the world's most consumed cereals can withstand the looming challenge of climate change. 

Talking to Dhaka Tribune on the sidelines of the International Wheat Congress 2019 (IWC19) in Saskatoon on Tuesday, leading global crop modeller Dr Senthold Asseng said for each degree Celsius of temperature rise, the world loses 6% of wheat crop. 

Prof Asseng, who heads Florida Climate Institute at the University of Florida, said politicians took advantage of big crop production boost, which the world has witnessed over the past several decades, by saying that yields are increasing despite global warming.

“But they often forget that, had it not been for climate change adversities, we could reap more. And there is a limit for further gains, from current grain traits, without more investment coming in agriculture's way,” he said. 

On the same day that Asseng sat with Dhaka Tribune, announcement of a whopping $117 million (CAD) investment for wheat genomic research came from the federal, and provincial governments in Canada, and Saskatchewan, respectively. 

On Tuesday, at IWC19, Canadian Federal Minister for Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan announced over $41 million in federal funding, supplementing an additional $76 million of investments by provincial government, business, and research partners in support of big time wheat genomics.

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In further explanation, Caldwell Zachary, the parliamentary affairs adviser at Duncan's office, told Dhaka Tribune that the huge fund in wheat genomics is not necessarily meant for the Canadian people; rather, cereal consumers all across the world would benefit from better-bred wheat, in the days of climate-induced stress situations. 

Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said genomic researchers are the heart of advancing science, so “our farmers have the tools they need to be successful.”

Prof Senthold Asseng made a fervent call for ensuring better use of precious resources like nitrogen, and phosphorus – all crucial for crop production. 

He called for great enhancement of nitrogen use efficiency, as of now half of it gets wasted in the process of farm sector application. 

Forewarning that the world will exhaust its phosphorus deposit in 300 years from now, the scholar expressed pity that 100,000 tons of phosphorus ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, through the Mississippi River every year. 

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune yesterday, Prof Scott Chapman, senior principal research scientist at CSIRO, an Australian key farm agency, said temperature increase would have huge ramifications on future wheat production in the world. 

Dr Suchismita Mondal, scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), told Dhaka Tribune that work is underway with partner scientists in Bangladesh for the development of better wheat varieties, that can withstand higher heat shocks in future. 

Mondal's colleague at the CIMMYT, wheat phenotype coordinator Carolina Saint Pierre, called for concerted efforts to help advance wheat science, so that rise in the world's grain output can keep pace with the growing world population, and future climate change fallout.