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University of Manitoba Hires New Plant Science Professor

Late last year Curt McCartney joined the Department of Plant Science at the University of Manitoba (U of M) as an Associate Professor in Cereal Crop Breeding and Genetics. He will be exploring new breeding strategies such as genomic selection to accelerate genetic gain in the U of M winter wheat breeding program. Dr. McCartney’s program will address production issues important to Manitoba farmers such as Fusarium head blight (FHB), lodging resistance, and of course grain yield.

McCartney received his Bachelor in Genetics from the U of M in 1997 and his PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics from the U of M in 2002. His PhD research was focused mostly on disease resistance in wheat.

What got you interested in this area of work?

Having grown up on a farm I’ve always been interested in farming and in high school and university classes I was always interested in genetics. Developing varieties applies genetics to improve profitability for farms, something I find very interesting.

Where did you work before the U of M?

Before joining the U of M I was a Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) where I was focused on wheat and oat genetics. I was working on a variety of traits important for farmers in Manitoba and the prairies including resistance to FHB, leaf and stem rust and orange wheat blossom midge.

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the University.

I will focus on winter wheat breeding because I think there is a real need for development in this class of wheat for Western Canada. There are many other wheat breeders across the prairies working on other types of wheat which I think are very well represented already, but and there are only a few breeders working on winter wheat. I expect global warming will lead to an increase in winter wheat production in Western Canada.

This year we’ll be testing spring, durum and winter wheat breeding lines going through the registration process for Western Canada. All that material gets tested for FHB resistance through our program at the U of M Carman research station and by AAFC in Morden. This U of M and AAFC data is the basis of the FHB resistance ratings for spring, durum, and winter wheat varieties in the provincial seed guides. Farmers rely on this data – it’s a critical tool for them to make informed decisions on what new varieties will fit on their farms.

In addition, I’ll be conducting genetic studies on traits that are important for the breeding programs in western Canada. I’ll also be training graduate students and teaching courses at the University in the fields of crop breeding and genetics.

What can you say about the value of farmers providing funding and support to your organization?

Farmer funding is critical for the success of the U of M wheat breeding program and the wheat research program. It allows us to:

  • Increase our capacity in breeding winter wheat.
  • Evaluate FHB resistance in wheat lines and varieties developed by other public sector breeding organizations and private breeding companies.
  • Purchase equipment and operating supplies.
  • Train graduate students who ultimately go on to work in other parts of the agriculture industry in Western Canada.
  • Leverage federal and provincial funding to conduct specific projects like the genetic projects or those conducted by graduate students.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

Farmers benefit from having increased breeding activity which translates into additional new varieties available to them. The funding also allows us to develop the Fusarium head blight ratings information for the Seed Guides, a very important recourse for farmers.

Moving forward, the goal of the winter wheat program is to develop varieties with improved winter hardiness, FHB resistance and increased grain yield. Without farmer funding and support we wouldn’t be able to investigate combining those traits. These are some of the major aspects farmer funding enables us to do.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

It is hard to remember what I did before the pandemic, but I enjoy going out for dinner with my wife and kids, curling, golfing, and reading. I am really looking forward to returning to regular life. Simple things like seeing friends and going out for coffee.