Research Critical in Dealing with Wheat Disease


by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) — Leaders in the wheat industry are trying to stave off further cuts in federal research dollars for the crop.

About 35 wheat growers, researchers, millers and bakers are in Washington this week to lobby Congress about research investments in wheat.

Lawmakers, USDA officials and farm groups all have said research not only needs to avoid cuts, but needs to be expanded to address the growing number of challenges from diseases, pests and climate change. Still, the overall USDA research budget has had significant cuts in the last few budget cycles. The White House budget proposal for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service would reflect a 12{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} cut from 2010 levels, or about $148 million less. Further, congressional restrictions on earmarks eliminated $180 million in various USDA research program spending, much of which has not been restored.

Ag groups have formed a coalition to protect research dollars, but the competition for funds is making it more difficult to generate strong support.

“Every commodity group has a wide variety of needs and we’re going after a limited flow of money,” said Jane DeMarchi, director of government affairs for research and technology at the National Association of Wheat Growers. “It is a challenging environment to have a strong coalition because of that.”

The demand for research funding is such that when USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture put out requests for competitive grants totaling $250 million, the agency received applications for $4 billion in proposals.

Research specifically into wheat programs runs about $50 million a year in USDA’s budget.

Brett Carver, a wheat geneticist at Oklahoma State University, noted wheat remains the most important food crop globally, certainly for protein.

“It is not a minor crop,” Carver said. “This is something that has supported our civilization for thousands of years.”

In the Southern Plains of Oklahoma, wheat research has allowed the crop to produce in an environment home to a dozen different diseases and a handful of insects. “I do not know of another plant that has to survive and thrive under those conditions,” Carver said.

That wouldn’t occur without USDA’s research support, Carver said. Also, research continues to unravel the crop’s complex genome.

Bing Von Bergen, a grower from Moccasin, Mont., and NAWG’s first vice president, said every part of the country has new problems with wheat that arise yearly. At the same time, budget cuts on the state level have caused research stations to close or scale back, leading to more reliance on federal funding and research into crop protection.

Along with that, growers have doubled checkoff spending on research at the state level, and groups such as the wheat growers have increased their own research spending as well.

“Having said that, it’s still not enough to keep up with the new problems that crop up all of the time,” Von Bergen said.

In Montana, the wet conditions led to severe wheat rust that Von Bergen said devastated the wheat crop. “Now we’re aware this is probably something that we are going to have to face in the future,” he said, adding, “About the time researchers solve one problem there is a new problem that rears its ugly head.”

The U.S. wheat and barley scab initiative has seen a $5 million grant program face a $1.4 million cut this year. Those cuts were effectively done to offset some other cuts to Agricultural Research Service facilities to keep them open. Researchers in 24 states take part in the scab program. That has caused a reduction in the scope of work in 2012.

Bob Wisness, a farmer from Arnegard, N.D., and vice president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, said part of the challenge with wheat is there is complacency among both farmers and consumers. People simply expect wheat to be on the grocery shelves and producers forget the need to deal with diseases such as scab.

Rick Siemer, president of Siemer Milling Co., said growers for his mills in Illinois and Kentucky have seen several scab outbreaks since the early 1990s. Without the research, wheat likely would not be grown in those areas. The disease is not just an agronomic problem, but a food-safety one as well.


© Copyright 2012 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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