The Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC) is responsible for setting standards (merit), evaluating and recommending grain crop candidate varieties for registration in Western Canada. There are four independent recommending committees:
- Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (PRCWRT)
- Prairie Recommending Committee for Oat and Barley (PRCOB)
- Prairie Recommending Committee for Pulse and Special Crops (PRCPSC)
- Prairie Recommending Committee for Oilseeds (PRCO)
The committees are comprised of representatives from the entire value, including variety/trait developers, farmers, commodity organizations, seed industry representatives, grain companies and end users.
In March, the PGDC held their annual meetings in person for the first time since 2019. Two staff and four crop committee delegates from Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) attended the meetings in Banff, AB.
“It’s extremely important to be involved in the decision-making process,” says Rauri Qually, a farmer from Dacotah, MB, and delegate on MCA’s wheat and barley crop committee.
“Farmers are a key part of the industry. We grow and sustain these varieties, whether developed privately or publicly. It is important for breeders, seed growers, merchants and industry officials to understand our perspective in real world cropping situations. This feedback is essential.”
Nick Matheson, an MCA director and flax committee delegate from Stonewall, MB, agrees that farmer feedback is extremely valuable in this arena.
“Farmers are the actual boots on the ground growing the commodity,” he says. “I think it’s very important to have farmer perspective at these meetings because the varieties need to meet the needs of farmers.”
Mallorie Lewarne, MCA’s agronomy extension specialist for cereal crops, adds that the PGDC is a great opportunity for farmers to directly interact with the scientific community and highlight the issues that are most prevalent on their farms.
“It is at these meetings we get to know the attributes of varieties coming forward for commercialization,” says Lori-Ann Kaminski, research program manager for cereal crops at MCA.
“We are judging upcoming lines against ‘merit criteria’ that we set. Farmers at this meeting can have a voice (vote) on any changes to those merit characteristics and get a look at how prospective lines stack up in field trials over two or three years, depending on crop type, at multiple Prairie locations.”
MCA also invests directly in the delivery of field-ready barley, flax and wheat varieties from Western Canada’s public breeding programs at the University of Manitoba, the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, the University of Alberta and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Western wheat and barley commissions formed the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition and the Canadian Barley Research Coalition to facilitate this collaborative approach to farmer funding of regional and national research projects in variety development and agronomy, including Core Breeding Agreements, the Canadian National Wheat Cluster and the Canadian National Barley Cluster.
Through these investments, Kaminski says, the “entire value chain is working together to build Canada’s reputation for quality and consistency.”
For Qually, Canada’s reputation around the world of producing the finest quality grains and oilseeds is key to the success of our industry at home.
“The variety registration system allows the industry and whole value chain to work together and decide what lines will be best, while maintaining our status of quality throughout the world,” he says. “It also allows the breeders to listen to the rest of the industry’s concerns and suggestions for making our grain and oilseed varieties all they can be.”
After attending the PRCWRT agronomy evaluation team meeting and annual meeting, Ryan Hueging, an MCA director and wheat and barley committee delegate from Woodlands, MB, says he is confident he will have access to new varieties that will improve profitability on his farm, and that these varieties will contain the quality buyers are looking for.
The variety registration system provides important information (the merit criteria) for farmers, such as disease ratings, agronomy characteristics and quality. This information also goes into Seed Manitoba.
“Farmers can evaluate risks specific to their area and decide on varieties to plant,” says Sheila Elder, a farmer from Wawanesa, MB, and chair of MCA’s wheat and barley crop committee.
“For example, in areas with fewer ‘growing degree days’ a shorter-season crop can be considered; for areas with risk of Fusarium head blight (FHB), a more resistant variety can be chosen; and if a farmer wants to grow a crop that has a higher risk of lodging, an appropriate growth regulator could be considered.”
When asked to share one takeaway from the meetings, there was general consensus recognizing all of the hard work and dedication that goes into developing varieties, as well as the organization, time and skills that go into gathering a large, diverse group together to decide on which lines to advance.
“My one takeaway would be that there is a lot of hard work and dedication put into creating varieties that are progressively improving,” says Hueging. “That comes from a very good collaborative effort to get all members of each specific segment of our industry to share their knowledge.”
Lewarne says she always leaves the PGDC meetings with an immense respect for the plant breeders, as well as the geneticists, pathologists and everybody else who works alongside them.
“Canada has a reputation for its high-quality wheat, and the breeders work tirelessly to maintain or exceed those standards for our customers around the world, while also taking farmers’ needs into consideration,” she says. “It seems like the target is constantly moving, but our Canadian breeders show up each year with new lines that improve on disease, agronomy and quality characteristics.”
What happened at Banff in 2023?
- Wheat, Rye and Triticale – 12 CWRS, two CWAD, four CPSR, one CWSWS, one rye, one spring triticale, and two winter triticale lines brought forward. Breeders are always working to meet or exceed merit criteria, so a lot of culling happens before lines are brought forward at the committee meetings. All but three were supported for registration (two CWRS and one CPSR). Over the last few years, the committee has been assessing which newer varieties should be used as our standards or checks. New FHB checks are to be implemented in 2024 because current intermediate checks are looking more moderately susceptible, especially for durum. Hoping to do some post-registration testing to update Seed Manitoba.
- Barley – 12 lines brought forward (three general purpose, seven malt and two food) and 10 were supported for registration. Both lines not supported were proposed as malting varieties.
- Flax – There were no new varieties brought forward this year, as upcoming lines are still in the data-gathering stages.
What happens next?
The recommendations from PGDC go forward to the Canadian Grain Commission for assignment of market class and the Variety Registration Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for registration. At the same time, breeding institutions and companies are making decisions about commercialization.
If you are interested in learning more about the PGDC, please reach out to MCA staff, directors or crop committee delegates, or visit pgdc.ca.