Revamped small grains program anticipates commercializing wheat line
QUEENSTOWN, Md. — The University of Maryland is closing in on its first commercially-licensed wheat line since the program was rekindled four years ago, small grains breeder Dr. Vijay Tiwari told farmers and industry representatives on May 23.
Tiwari discussed the university’s Small Grains Breeding and Genetics program progress during its small grains field day at the Wye Research and Education Center.
He singled out four lines that have shown the most promise in yield and disease resistance — noting two, MDW-17 and MDW-58 have “amazing scab resistance” — and added three seed companies have expressed interest in licensing a line.
“It looks like this season we are going to license at least one of these lines,” Tiwari said.
He said further discussion will likely come after this year’s strip trials are harvested, giving the breeding program three years of data on the lines performance which should give companies a clearer picture of the lines across multiple environmental scenarios.
As it has for more than 50 years, the Maryland Crop Improvement Association — per an agreement with the university — would collect and distribute royalties from sales of newly-licensed varieties back to the university in addition to funding a scholarship program, MCIA President Tom Mullineaux said.
“We’re all involved in the seed business,” Mullineaux said. “We all work together and it’s important to maintain that.”
In reviving the genetics program in 2018, Tiwari collected germplasm from public lines of wheat and received donations from other public breeders at Land Grant Universities.
Crediting several members of the small grains team with its progress, Tiwari said they used what he called “speed breeding” to shave years off the development process by working in greenhouse settings which allowed four crosses a year using a controlled environment.
In three years, Tiwari said he amassed more than 36,000 germplasms in small grains genetics.
That brings a need for more storage, he said but he prefers that to where the program was four years ago.
“Now we have the problem of plenty,” he said.
As field day attendees scouted the research plots, Dr. Nidhi Rawat, UMD plant pathologist discussed disease presence in this year’s small grains crops.
She said levels of fusarium head blight, or scab, were very low in resistance varieties, to the point where a fungicide application wasn’t needed in most cases.
However, susceptible varieties selected for their strong yield potential needed the application.
“This was a year where you can really tell the difference in genetics,” Rawat said.
While scab was more manageable this year, Rawat said it has been one of the worst years for incidence of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus.
She cited reasons for the increase in commonly planted varieties in the region having a lack of resistance to the virus and a relatively mild winter fostering a higher population of aphids, which transmits the virus.