University of Saskatchewan

September 16, 2014   

New U of S Agricultural Research Chair Established

March 08, 1999

Research into new winter wheat varieties and environmentally friendly farming practices will get a boost thanks to the creation of a new research chair in ecological agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan.

The non-profit conservation organization Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) announced today it will provide $500,000 over five years to establish the Eco-Agriculture Enhancement Chair.

The Chair will expand the U of S Crop Development Centre's research into improved winter wheat varieties and sustainable, conservation-based farming. It will also help train graduate students.

"We're very pleased Ducks Unlimited has made this money available," said Dr. Brian Fowler, senior research scientist with the Crop Development Centre and holder of the new Chair. "This will enable us to do research in areas that will advance opportunities for production of winter wheat which is an environmentally friendly crop with profit potential for farmers."

Fowler, recognized internationally as the leading expert on winter wheat, will lead a research team in the U of S Department of Plant Sciences that will work with DUC to develop varieties that are more winter hardy and contribute to DUC's promotion of winter cereals to farmers. According to Ducks Unlimited, winter cereals have proven to provide valuable wildlife habitat.

"Our research has shown that winter cereal crops supplement wildlife habitat and provide valuable nesting cover to waterfowl and other ground nesting birds," said Don Young, DUC's executive vice-president. "By working with the University of Saskatchewan, we can enhance the promotion of our winter cereal program by offering farmers improved seed varieties."

Ducks Unlimited will provide $100,000 a year through to 2003 for the new Chair. Programs implemented by the Chair will target farmers in the Northern Great Plains region that includes North Dakota, Montana, and the Prairie provinces. DUC's money builds on existing financial support for Fowler's work from both the Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund and the Western Grains Research Foundation.

This is the first time DUC has funded a chair in agricultural research at a Canadian university. DUC's Young said the Chair position contributes to the organization's goal of expanding the acreage of winter cereals in Western Canada.

"When fields are planted with winter cereals in the fall they are seeded directly into the standing stubble from the spring crop. The stubble helps to camouflage nesting birds, protecting them and their nests from predators. Unlike spring-seeded crops, winter cereal crops don't require tillage in the spring so nests remain undisturbed by field equipment," Young said. He added that fewer herbicides are used on winter cereals and they are often harvested prior to fall migration so crop damage by waterfowl is reduced.

At present, only about 200,000 acres of Western Canada farm land is planted with winter wheat. According to Fowler, increasing this figure by two or three times would help to establish markets for Canada's winter wheat crop. His seed breeding program, which has already developed six new winter wheat varieties since 1991, will work on developing winter-hardy, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant and higher-yielding winter wheat varieties that will be profitable for growers.

"We already know that winter wheat is important from a conservation standpoint," he said. "Now we have to make it more viable for farmers in terms of yield and profit."

Bryan Harvey, U of S Co-ordinator of Agricultural Research, noted Ducks Unlimited is a long-time partner in U of S research to develop conservation cropping practices. "We are delighted with this strong demonstration of support which will allow us to extend our efforts in this area for the benefit of Prairie agriculture," he said.

For further information, contact:

Dr. Brian Fowler
Senior Research Scientist
U of S Crop Development Centre
(306) 966-4973

Kathryn Warden
Research Communications Officer
University of Saskatchewan
(306) 966-2506

Lauralou Cicierski
Writer, Communications
Ducks Unlimited Canada
(204) 467-3252

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