Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Day 8 and It's Back to The Classroom at the UoS

Monday morning and I was back at school, not mine but the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon.  I was here to meet Bruce Coulman and Kofi Agblor at the Crop Development Centre (CDC).  We spent the morning talking about breeding techniques and history of the CDC.  Since it started in 1971 over 400 varieties have been developed and bred here and then passed on to local companies to breed on and sell to the farmers.  The focus is on breeding and genetics.  The main breeding program is looking at yields, fusarium head-blight, earliness of maturity and resistance to Wheat Midge, the same pests we call  Orange Wheat Blossom Midge.  40% of the funding comes through the government and the rest from producer groups and industry.
One of the really great assets at UoS is the Phytotron which is basically a growth chamber where light, humidity and temperature can be controlled.  This means that faster turn around of crops can speed up the breeding cycle, and considering the spring wheat's have about 100 days to mature this could potentially enable three generations to be bred in one year.  There are about 180 in total at the University and $12 million has recently been raised to refurbish them.
Part of the team is looking at the quality of the wheat and how it reacts through the backing process. The picture above is of an experiment looking at the stickiness of dough from a particular variety of wheat.  There's an interesting topic on reducing the salt levels in bread to make a healthier loaf.  The salt (sodium) reacts with the gluten affecting the baking characteristics. Current sodium levels are about 360mg per 100g loaf, which surprised me because you don't really taste it.  Imagine if we could engineer a bread that didn't need the extra added salt to the mix to create our loaves, a perfect solution to a healthier diet.
Later that morning we met up with Curtis Pozniak who heads up the breeding program.  Curtis currently has about 42,000 trial plots in his current research.  GPS technology is used on the seed planters to accurately locate all of those seed trials, and some of them might only be a foot squared.  There was also the Canadian seed bank at the University where seed goes into long term storage, where it can last between 50-70 years, when stored at -25 Celsius.  
I took a wander around the University grounds between meetings and I have to say the architecture is fantastic.  New development is happening everywhere to house and educate the 20,000 or so students here.  Of those 1,200 are being taught Agriculture.
After lunch I had a meeting with Faouzi Bekkaoui, the Executive Director of the Wheat Improvement Flagship Program at the NRC (National Research Council).  One of the big projects at the moment is the Canadian Wheat Alliance, who are targeting three main areas of investment into future wheat development.  They are looking at Accelerating Variety Development, Sustainable Yields - Cropping with Variable Climates and Increased Productivity and Sustainable Profitability.  One aspect I was very interested in was the Beneficial Biotic Interactions and using the Synchrotron light source (the only one in Canada) to try and learn more about the soil and how it functions.
Thanks to everyone who hosted me today, getting back in the classroom was actually rather enjoyable until I came to leave and found a parking ticket on the car!  Luckily the attendant was still there so I pleaded ignorance (not too hard) and was let off the $25 fine so thanks to the security guard as well who ever you are!  These Canadians eh, great eh?

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