Canada prioritizes wheat research to fight climate change

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Canada has identified the five wheat research priorites required to maintain its status quo as one of the leading wheat producers in the world. Pic: ©GettyImages/TomasSereda
Canada has identified the five wheat research priorites required to maintain its status quo as one of the leading wheat producers in the world. Pic: ©GettyImages/TomasSereda
Cereals Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) have released the 2017 Canadian Wheat Research Priorities Report, outlining the priorities stakeholders should focus on that could help counter the effects climate change would have on wheat production, among other things.

The Wheat Research Task Group identified five prioties, including improving wheat yield and wheat reliability; increasing sustainability; advancing food safety; and opening market opportunities.

“Research and technology development is a competitive advantage for Canadian agriculture,”​ said Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada.

According to the Canadian Wheat Research Priorities Report​, every dollar invested in wheat research delivers a net return to producers of around C$20 ($16).

A leading wheat exporter

Canada produces an average of 30m tons of wheat annually and is the worlds’ largest producer of high-protein milling wheat.

It is also one of the world’s top five wheat exporters with an average of C$7bn ($5.65bn) exported annually.

Wheat yield has increased on average 1.4% per year since the mid-1990’s – attributed to genetic and agronomy innovations.

However, Canada’s wheat acreage has declined by about 15% over the last 20 years.

This is largely due to global surplus, reduced prices and declining farm profitability for wheat compared to other crops.

 “The goal of the work was to develop a national set of objectives for wheat research that covers the entire value chain, including government, the private sector, farmers, processors and exporters to ensure that there’s that link back to customer demand and the marketplace,”​ Dahl told BakeryandSnacks.

Evergreen process

The report notes that most of the outcomes are expected to be achieved within a five-year period.

Dahl said: “There are specific measurable goals that will be evaluated on an annual basis and adjusted according to market changes or as priorities change, but this is a continual evergreen process, something that is going to evolve over time.”

More importantly, he noted, the report’s aim is to create an environment that encourages additional investment in cereal research.

“There has been significant investment in [wheat cultivar development] research by the private sector in the past five years, from some of the largest developers, including Syngenta and Bayer. Limigrain, too, has invested in partnerships with some crop development and seed companies in Canada,”​ said Dahl.

Climate blow on wheat

An issue of particular priority is preparing to meet climate change amid the world’s ever-increasing need for food, note the authors.

Thumbnail of the Canadian wheat market

Wheat rust Volokhatiuk
Pic: ©iStock/Volkhautiuk
  • Total wheat production averaged 30m tons between 2012 and 2016.
  • Wheat is the country’s largest field crop, grown over 24m acres.
  • Gross farm value of wheat production is approximately $7b annually.
  • Each year, Canada exports 20-24m tons of wheat to more than 60 countries.
  • Eight-10m tons of wheat is used domestically for food (milled into flour).

Wheat is a staple food for 35% of the world’s population, expected to swell to more than nine billion people by 2050.

Global wheat demand is forecast to increase to 900m tons from current production levels of around 725m tons, however, climate change is expected to have a huge impact on production, with studies suggesting that a mere 1°C rise would reduce world wheat production by 6%.

“On the one hand, there will be increasing demand for wheat with greater world population and on the other, a more challenging production environment for wheat with climate change,”​ wrote the authors.

Beyond Canadian borders

Research undertaken by stakeholders in Canada will have far-reach effects beyond the borders, Dahl told us.

“Our focus, of course, is within Canada, but that also includes collaboration with multinational companies, which gives us access to research platforms that cross over many different jurisdictions,”​ he said, highlighted by the author’s notes that knowledge transfer of research findings and best practices is key for all five priorities.

Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of AAFC, praised the collaboration between the Canadian government, Cereals Canada and the private sector to identify wheat research priorities.

“These will help us respond to the evolving business needs of producers, increase agricultural sustainability and ensure top-quality products for consumers at home and abroad,” ​he said.

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