Demand for wheat by 2050 is predicted to increase by 70 percent from today’s levels due to population growth and dietary changes, but the challenges to wheat production are stark and growing.

USDA Agricultural Research Service: Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology Research, Peoria, IL

Mycotoxins are toxins produced by molds (fungi) and can accumulate in crops, where they pose health hazards to humans and animals. Mycotoxins are estimated to affect 25% of the world’s crops and cost US agriculture approximately $1 billion each year.

The mission for the Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology (MPM) research unit is to enhance food safety and crop production in the U.S. and around the world. Researchers use information from genetics, microbiology, chemistry and plant biology to develop new ways to limit mycotoxin contamination, control foodborne diseases, and improve crop production.

All efforts to monitor and reduce mycotoxin contamination require reliable methods that detect and measure mycotoxins. Therefore, a major goal of MPM research is to develop sensitive and cost effective methods for detecting and measuring mycotoxins.

U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative

The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI), reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, spends nearly $10 million annually on research to fight Fusarium head blight, commonly known as scab.

USWBSI coordinates work on this fungal disease to avoid duplication and increase the speed with which basic and applied research is translated into tools for farmers and other stakeholders.

A recent study estimates the return on investment to the research expenditures of the Scab Initiative which has spent $76 million over its life, including in-kind contributions.  For both wheat and barley, the NPV of net savings from reduced production loss ranges from $5.3 – 5.4 billion over the period 1993-2014. For every $1 invested, plus in-kind and fungicide costs, there are $71 in benefits. This is significant and compares very favorably to other studies on agriculture research. The return on investment for expenditures on the Scab Initiative (including in-kind costs) was approximately 34%, which is very substantial.

This progress is a testament to USWBSI funding, which supports breeders working to deliver more resistant varieties and develop best management practices for farmers.

Despite these successes, scab is still a major threat to American farmers because of the complex, intransigent nature of the disease. Until farmers of all classes of wheat have access to highly resistant varieties, scab will continue to be an issue.

International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium is an international group of plant scientists and growers dedicated to sequencing the wheat genome to enhance our knowledge of the structure and function of the wheat genome.

By increasing researchers’ understandings of wheat’s genetic material, scientists and breeders will be able to accelerate and even reduce the cost of wheat improvement.

The overarching goal of the IWGSC is to develop a high-quality, manually-annotated genome sequence that is anchored to the genetic and phenotypic maps.

The Consortium is committed to ensuring that the sequence of the wheat genome and the resulting DNA-based tools are available for all to use without restriction.

The wheat industry strongly encourages USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to prioritize participating in the international work toward completing the sequencing of the wheat genome by supporting work on the chromosomes assigned to U.S. scientists.

Funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Regional Molecular Genotyping Laboratories is also crucial to apply new genomics information and DNA molecular marker technologies in the improvement of wheat.

The wheat industry also supports the development of new methods to identify and validate genetic traits and to rapidly integrate these traits into market-ready wheat varieties.

International Wheat Yield Partnership

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) represents a long-term global endeavor that utilizes a collaborative approach to bring together funding from public and private research organizations from a large number of countries. Over the first five years, the growing list of partners aims to invest up to US$100 million.

Guiding Principles for Governance and Management of IWYP

  • Commitment to collaboration and the overarching objectives of the IWYP Program(s)
  • Coordination and transparency
  • Open communication of results within IWYP and exchange of germplasm, data and materials as necessary to achieve the overall R&D and delivery objectives
  • A commitment to competitive funding processes and international peer review
  • Flexibility and responsiveness
  • Synergistic approaches to avoid duplication of activity, both within the IWYP Programs and elsewhere
  • The avoidance of bureaucracy and working in partnership in a positive and constructive manner

IWYP’s goal is to increase the genetic yield potential of wheat by 50% in 20 years!