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Wheat Genome Nearly Sequenced

For years, complexity and cost has made sequencing the genome of bread wheat elusive. However, researchers with the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium believe that within two years, a high-quality whole genome reference sequence for the variety Chinese Spring will be completed. 

The finished product will include a complete map of the entire genetic makeup from one end of the chromosome to the other for all 21 bread wheat chromosome pairs.

It’s a vital step forward as wheat breeders are under pressure to continue creating new wheat varieties to compete with other commodities, while delivering quality, yield, and protection against pests and diseases, says Jesse Poland, associate professor at Kansas State University and one of the lead scientists on the wheat genome project.

The wheat genome itself is huge, with a total of 16 billion base pairs of DNA, compared with other significant staple crops like rice and corn, which have 430 million and 2.5 billion, respectively. 

“Having the whole genome sequence is like providing an instructional manual for building better plants,” Poland explains. “Until now, the pages in the manual were out of order, and 40% of them were missing. Having a complete manual, with everything in the right order, will allow us to quickly identify genes responsible for traits such as pest resistance, yield, and quality. With this genomic information, we could potentially make the breeding cycle two to three times faster and bring better varieties to farmers in a fraction of the time.”

It’s a tough go for wheat in 2016 

In February, the July wheat futures at the Kansas City Board of Trade hovered around $4.65 per bushel. That’s a far cry from the $7- to $8-per-bushel wheat farmers were getting in 2012. The bad news is, things could get worse. 

“Don’t assume prices can’t go any lower. They can,” says Darrel Holaday, president of Advanced Market Concepts of Frankfort, Kansas. “A market will remain irrational way longer than we can remain liquid.” 

In 2015/2016, domestic winter wheat acreage has dropped to 36.6 million acres (down from 63 million acres in 2008). A host of factors are at play. For one, global wheat supplies are extremely high. As of February, the world’s major wheat-producing regions all had excellent wheat crops. 

“We’re already swimming in wheat. Globally, we have 50% of the wheat we already need for the year – before harvest even begins!” Holaday says. 

Not All Bad News

Getting rid of all this wheat will require more than the mouths of Americans, says Dalton Henry, trade policy director at the U.S. Wheat Associates. 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, signed in New Zealand February 4, should help.  

The deal, which needs to be ratified by Congress, includes the U.S., Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Peru. It would strengthen economic ties between these nations and reduce tariffs to boost international trade. 

Wheat is the most export-dependent grain grown by U.S. farmers. South Asia and Latin America represent growing but competitive markets for U.S. production. The deal would reduce the tariff on wheat exported to these nations and put the U.S. on a level playing field with competing countries. 

With duty-free access under its free-trade agreement with Vietnam, for example, Australia currently enjoys a $12- to $15-per-metric-ton price advantage over U.S. wheat. U.S. wheat exports are at a tariff disadvantage in a number of other countries that want to join TPP but can’t apply for membership until after Congress and the 11 other countries’ governments ratify the agreement.

“We need it done. Until then, we will continue to lose sales,” Henry says. 

“The good news is this isn’t just a one-off treaty like we have with other countries. This is a platform agreement to which we can add even more countries with whom we can do trade,” he adds.  

New Hard Red Spring Varieties

Syngenta has introduced two new hard red spring varieties for 2016. 

  • SY Coho provides excellent yield potential on irrigated acres or high-rainfall areas. With tolerance to stripe rust, it is ideal for high-management areas. This variety is best suited for eastern Washington, western Montana, and Idaho.
  • SY Segway is a semi-dwarf variety bred for dryland areas with 15 inches of rain or less. Its disease package includes excellent stripe rust tolerance and tolerance to Fusarium head scab. It is best suited for northern Oregon, eastern Washington, and northern Idaho.
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