Wheat breeder targets midge

Wheat growers could soon have access to a bread-making variety with orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

Nickerson is in the last year of in-house trials of a new, unnamed variety based on a cross between Xi19 and Welford, says the firm’s senior wheat breeder John Barrett. “If you get a midge attack in bread-making wheat, it is a huge problem. But at present there is no bread-making variety with midge resistance. We hope to be in a position to enter official trials this year.”

Combining the high-yielding and good bread-making characteristics of Xi19 with Welford’s midge resistance will make the variety more resilient in the market, he says. “Orange blossom midge was perceived as a problem one year in 10, but we know now they’re there every year and if conditions are right, they can be devastating.”

Mr Barrett says the firm aims to get midge resistance into all varieties in the breeding programme, speeded by using double haploid breeding techniques (see panel).

Protection against eyespot is another key factor this technology canhelp deliver, he says. “Eyespot resistance in winter wheat is difficult to select for, but we’re trying to increase the frequency it is incorporated into breeding programmes.” In 2005/06 16% of all varieties had Pch1 eyespot resistance, up from just 2% a decade ago, he adds.

George Mason, chief wheat buyer for miller Heygates, hopes improvements in bread-making varieties will help stem the trend towards Group 4 wheats, which accounted for 36% of varieties in 2007, compared with just over 14% for Group 1s.

What is double haploid breeding?

  • Maize is used to pollinate wheat, resulting in a haploid embryo (half the normal number of wheat chromosomes). Pollinated spikes are hormone treated, then after 14 days, are cut and cultured in a lab. These are chemically treated to double the chromosome number, before being grown on.

    The process saves about two years over conventional pedigree breeding, improves selection efficiency and reduces the amount of land (and cost) required.


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