The HGCA Recommended List should demand higher wheat disease resistance standards from breeders to meet rising food demands, a leading wheat breeder has said.

Speaking at the 2010 Crop Protection in Northern Britain Conference in Dundee Nickerson’s Bill Angus called for the resistance rating standards to be increased.

“The momentum needs to be kept up – I’d like to see the minimum septoria rating increase from a four to a five within five years followed by subsequent rises to six, and why not seven?”

But, the genetic stability of the resistance should also be taken into consideration, he explained. “Under the current system, varieties can enter the list with a resistance rating of nine, but this can quickly crash as the cultivar’s resistance breaks down.”

Disease resistance had been given low priority in breeding programmes in the past 50 years in favour of out and out yield, he acknowledged

“The spray-it-and-weigh-it philosophy” was an acceptable approach when there weren’t environmental and water quality concerns, he said. “But now the constraints are very different and robust disease resistance must be a priority.”

Disease pressure was increasing and many valuable fungicides were threatened with withdrawal. Therefore, breeding varieties resistant to major diseases, such as septoria tritici, eyespot, fusarium and yellow rust, was crucial, he said.

Genetic material capable of achieving robust resistance to these diseases was available, but many breeders chose not to use it, favouring high-yielding and potentially vulnerable material, he said. “It’s much easier to breed dirty varieties.”

But production could only be sustained if farmers were offered varieties with robust resistance to major wheat diseases, said Mr Angus.

Durable rust-resistant variety on horizon

A wheat variety with durable resistant to current strains of yellow rust could be available in the next five years, said Nickerson’s Bill Angus.

“We have the technology hopefully succeed in the next five years,” he said.

Molecular marker-assisted selection systems meant genes responsible for yellow rust resistance could be accurately mapped, he said “Traditionally it was trial and error, but now we are able to do it by design.” 

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