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Feed Grain Co-op’s New Variety WFT 603 Crosses Registration Hurdle

WFGDC marks a milestone in its goal of offering a lower-risk feed grain alternative to corn

There’s a new wheat in town, and it wasn’t developed by any of the usual suspects.

WFT 603, a general purpose wheat variety from the Western Feed Grain Development Co-op Ltd. (WFGD Co-op), recently crossed the regulatory hurdles for registration and will be distributed to members by next spring.

“Our seed will be competitive with other seed companies,” said chair David Rourke, who runs a variety of enterprises near Minto.

“Members will be able to keep and clean their own seed, but there is a small charge for on-farm saved seed to help with development of new varieties.”

The co-op, formed in 2006 to create high-yielding, fusarium-resistant wheat varieties for animal feed and ethanol production, has seen its share of twists and turns over the years.

Initially established as a way to avoid the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly and the requirement that all wheat varieties adhere to the now-abolished Kernel Visual Distinguishability (KVD) rule, it has 65 actively farming members in Western Canada who pay a $10 fee to join.

Early days

In the co-op’s early days, there was no way to register a general purpose wheat that did not fit the functional classes, and the lack of a feed wheat variety that could compete with corn meant that the livestock industry was dependent on frozen, spoiled or otherwise subpar grain that was only suitable for feed.

Originally, the plan was to distribute the seed only among members. But the co-op has since decided to pursue registration in order to gain more credibility, make it easier to participate in third-party crop trials and for crop insurance purposes.

“The whole world has changed since we started. Back then, we wouldn’t have been able to put it in the registration system, but now we can,” he said.

Rourke believes that a breeding program focused on a short-term objective of developing wheat varieties that yield at least 40 per cent more than hard red spring wheat has strong potential for farmers seeking lower-risk, lower-production cost-effective alternatives for feed.

Target yields

Long term, the co-op targets yields of up to 10 MT/hectare by 2020, which Rourke feels is easily within reach through a combination of breeding and agronomic optimization trials that will test advanced lines under various fertilizer and seeding rates as well as seeding dates and fungicide applications.

“We’re not that far off on a single-site basis,” said Rourke. “Back in 1985, I had 125 bushel/acre wheat on plots. Now we just have to keep refining that to get it on a long-term basis.”

Cool weather seems to be the key to getting high yields of wheat, and a 2° reduction in the average growing season temperature appears to be the sweet spot.

“But since we can’t control the weather, we have to try to do it through breeding and by finding plants adapted to higher temperatures that give those higher yields that would normally be associated with cooler temperatures,” said Rourke.

From the Grainews website: First fusarium-resistant spring wheat now in pipeline

Despite the success of new hybrid corn varieties, Rourke believes that there is still room for wheat grown exclusively for feed uses due to wheat’s lower input costs, and the ever-present risk of a 2004-style crop disaster, when a killing frost in August wiped out the corn.

“I think that as farmers, we need options, whether it’s wheat, corn, soybeans or canola. As farmers, we’re being asked to take on more of the risk ourselves, so I don’t think it would be smart to put all our eggs in whatever was the best thing last year,” said Rourke.

Promising crosses

The co-op’s members include both active agricultural producers and corporate members. Membership fees collected as well as funds awarded by the provincial and federal funding agencies have helped to support the breeding program.

After starting in 2006 with a handful of promising crosses, it has since expanded to more than 300 aimed at breeding wheat lines specifically for the general purpose wheat class suited to end-users such as ethanol plants, livestock feeders and possibly wheat millers.

The WFT 603 variety is an awned, medium-height, general purpose spring wheat with a big red kernel.

Plot trials have shown it has high yield potential at 102 per cent of AC Andrew, 105 per cent of 5702PR, and 104 per cent of Pasteur in Zone 1 General Purpose Co-op Trials based on results from 2011 and 2012.

Best adapted to the black soil zone of Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan, it offers improved fusarium head blight resistance over AC Andrew. It also rates as “resistant” to leaf and stem rust, with “good resistance” to common bunt, and “intermediate” resistance to loose smut.

Multiplication of WFT 603 will take place in 2014 with commercial seed available to WFGD Co-op farmers by 2015.


New wheats in the Prairie pipeline – Manitoba Cooperator April 4, 2013


WFGD Co-op Back From The Brink
Co-operator staff

August 5, 2010

After threatening to fold last year, the Western Feed Grains Development Co-op is back on a firm footing.

With $275,000 in funding from the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council (MRAC), the 90-member co-op has been able to resolve its funding crunch and hire a new plant breeder in order to continue its efforts to develop member-owned varieties of high-yielding, fusarium-resistant feed wheat.

Attempts to register two new cultivars, 409 and 411, failed last year, but the co-op’s resident David Rourke is confident that success is around the corner, with even better varieties such as the up-and-comers 514 and 517 growing in plots around the country this summer.

“We’ve stepped up the number of lines from 10,000 to more like 100,000, and we’ve got 10 times more area in plots than we had last year,” said Rourke, on the sidelines of the co-op’s annual summer plot tour last week.

The registration process is “arbitrary” in nature, and seems to depend on the mood of those at the table, he added, noting that on land well fertilized with hog manure, the co-op’s 409 variety showed surprising durability prior to harvesting and yielded 92 bushels to the acre on his best quarter.

“It’s a tough, short variety that doesn’t seem to shell. It’s got good leaf and rust resistance. Last fall it just stood there waiting for us to combine,” he said, adding that the grain rated “a little better” than AC Barrie in terms of fusarium resistance.

But even without registration, members of the co-op already have 20,000 acres of seed and grain production underway. The co-op, which was formed in 2005 prior to the creation of the general purpose wheat class, was originally designed to serve as a vehicle for members-only trade in unregistered varieties outside the grain-handling system.

“Because of the system we have, where the members own their own germplasm, if they see value in it, we can grow it,” said Rourke. “It would be nice if it was registered, but it’s not that big of a deal.”

The co-op’s new plant breeder Sajjad Rao, is also working on crosses incorporating UG99 stem rust-resistant traits derived from a Canadian variety known as Cadillac.

Trouble in the hog industry hasn’t affected interest in domestic solutions for feed grains, said Rourke.

Talk of a worldwide wheat shortage a few years ago, and higher prices for Hard Red Spring wheat, saw more farmers putting milling-quality wheat in the ground. But that cycle may have run its course, and in recent months there have been reports that the shortage has turned into a surplus.

If the trend continues, it may make feed grains more appealing. In the meantime, the co-op’s breeding program is aiming for a 40 per cent yield advantage. So far, the co-op’s cultivars are about 18 per cent above HRSW, said Rourke.

“I think that by this winter, the price differential may disappear by a little bit,” he added.


Farmer-Owned Feed Wheat Germplasm Project Continues
Feed Grain Co-op Plans To Register Two New Varieties Next Spring

Co-operator staff

Rumours of their imminent demise were greatly exaggerated.

The Western Feed Grains Development Co-op, which was formed in 2005 with the goal of putting high-yielding, fusarium resistant feed wheat varieties in the hands of farmers, not companies, voted at its annual general meeting last week to continue its efforts.

A funding shortfall has been temporarily resolved, and the co-op plans to apply for registration of two new wheat varieties by spring and begin selling seed, according to WFGD Co-op director Owen McAuley.

“It’s been quite a struggle finding funding for the breeding program, but I’m a little bit more confident than even I was last year,” said McAuley.

Results in test plots last summer showed that WFT varieties 409 and 411 averaged around 70 bushels per acre with better fusarium head blight resistance than the control AC Andrew. More varieties still in the development stages with large-size kernels and bigger stalks promise future improvements and the possibility of carving out market share.

With more seed available, the co-op is set to move on to the next level, which is supplying members with reliable, high-quality varieties that they can grow for feeding livestock or producing ethanol instead of relying on unpredictable supplies of downgraded or weather-damaged milling wheat.

The Co-op’s Plant breeder left the program last fall, and amid uncertain funding, the co-op was hesitant about hiring on another full-time plant breeder.

In the meantime, the research has continued with the help of a handful of scientists at Ag-Quest’s four locations in Western Canada. Todd Reid, based at Taber, Alberta, is doing the critical work of crossing lines and directing the work of technicians in other provinces.

Some had thought that the end of kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) as a screening requirement for new wheat registrations, and the addition of the new General Purpose wheat class, would eliminate the need for the co-op’s plans for members-only trade in feed wheat.

But despite those regulatory changes, the main reason for the co-op’s existence hasn’t changed, said director David Rourke.

“One of our objectives was to get these kinds of wheats into the market so we could continue to be low-cost producers on a sustainable nature for ethanol and livestock feed, and not rely on cheap U. S. corn or frozen Saskatchewan wheat,” he said.

The turnout at the recent plot tour at the Minto site was down from past years, noted Rourke, who said that it could be the result of sagging fortunes in the livestock industry.

Last year’s spike in grain prices resulted in significant setbacks for those sectors, but the possibility of a return to the “normal” commodity cycle could see both making a comeback as a means to soak up surplus grain.

“It’s always hard to tell. But we started this three or four years ago when grain prices were low. We didn’t start it when grain prices were high. It probably looks worse right now than it will ever look,” said Rourke.

“Someone pointed out that if they did away with ethanol, that would increase the supply of corn on the market by four billion bushels almost overnight. But one of the reasons we got involved with ethanol was to get rid of those four billion bushels of grain.”


Feed Grain Development Coop Focuses on Creating Wheats for Feed and Industrial Uses
Farmscape for January 8, 2007  (Episode 2282)

A director of the Western Feed Grain Development Coop is encouraging stakeholders in western Canada’s livestock and ethanol industries to consider membership.

The Western Feed Grain Development Coop was formed in December 2005 to facilitate the development of lines of wheat suited for feed or industrial uses and it’s now working to expand its membership.

Current federal regulations prohibit the commercial distribution of varieties that resemble high quality milling wheats but, as owners of the genetic material, coop members would be free to distribute suitable varieties among themselves.

Coop director David Rourke says the difficulty in accessing these lines has been registration.


Clip-David Rourke-Western Feed Grain Development Coop 

There is no class for a dedicated feed wheat.

Feed wheat is a default class.

Something that doesn’t make hard red spring or a durum or a CPS because of production problems or quality problems becomes a feed wheat so we don’t have a class for a high yielding starchy wheat that can be grown for that purpose and the Ag Canada breeders are frustrated because there’s no system.

They could do this probably as well or better than we could but they have no way to get it into the system into farmers hands because there’s no way to register this type of wheat.

What we’re reasonably sure of is, if a number of farmers get together through a coop and breed their own wheat and grow it on their own farms and essentially use it within a closed loop system, that we can get that into the market place.

 Rourke notes Manitoba is already feed deficient and as the US ethanol industry and starts using up more corn there will be fewer options available for western Canadian end users.

He says the goal now is to expand membership to generate additional seed money needed to help cover the cost of further developing these new lines.

Bruce Cochrane


Western Grain Development Coop Seeks New Members
Farmscape for December 22, 2006  (Episode 2272)

The Western Feed Grain Development Coop is looking for new members interested in a program designed to allow the production and internal distribution and use of high yielding strains of wheat, normally inaccessible in Canada.

To protect the integrity of Canada’s wheat exports federal regulations prohibits the registration or commercial distribution of wheat varieties that resemble high quality milling wheats.

Over the years these rules have resulted in the rejection of several lines suited for industrial uses such as ethanol or for feeding livestock.

The Western Feed Grain Development Coop was formed one year ago as one option for filling that void.

Coop Director David Rourke  told those on hand last week for Hog and Poultry Days 2006 in Winnipeg members would be free to develop and distribute those varieties on their own within a closed loop coop system.

 Clip-David Rourke-Western Feed Grain Development Coop  

Because the coop is owned by the individual farmer members, they own the germplasm and they’re free to use it and multiply it as much as they want on their own.

They’re not free to sell it to anyone else outside of the coop.

There’s been lots of cases of people bringing unlicensed wheats from the states for various purposes and that is illegal and you’re not supposed to do that.

Certainly what we don’t want to do is anybody taking our type of material and entering it into the elevator system where it could get mixed with an export quality grain.

We’ve got pretty explicit instructions to our members and declarations that that won’t be tolerated and that’s certainly not the intent of what we want to do but there’s a huge gap.

We’re feed deficient in eastern Manitoba for a long time and western Manitoba we’re not as feed deficient but, as the US develops their ethanol industry and starts using more of their own corn, there’s less options and there’s a glaring hole here of a locally grown starchy spring cereal.

 Rourke notes its the membership fees, along with matching grants provided by the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council that cover the cost of the coop’s research efforts.

Bruce Cochrane


 Co-op looks for best feedstock from trials

Manitoba Cooperator

Minto – A new farmer owned co-op will test wheat here this year to find new varieties for the livestock feed and ethanol industries.

The farmer-operated Western Feed Grain Development Co-op Ltd. is looking for a high yielding, low protein, high starch and fusarium-resistant wheat from its crosses at Ag Quest in Minto.

According to David Rourke, a director of the co-op, they will harvest these crops and then make their selections.

“We’ll take our best or most advanced material to either Chile or Mexico or New Zealand (the co-op hasn’t yet decided which) and put them in yield trials next year and multiple them as much as we can so by the spring of 2008 we’re starting to distribute among the members,” Rourke said.

The varieties grown by the co-op members will only be distributed and sold to other members.

“What we’re going to do it make sure that people that are members won’t be penalized by other people if they start using it for export. (Exporting this wheat) isn’t our intent,” he explained.

Co-op members don’t want their feed wheat to take away from Canada ‘s high-quality wheat market.

“We want to feed our hogs with our own byproducts. It’s an opportunity to pay ourselves instead of the multinationals looking after us,” Rourke said.

There is a demand for feed wheats for both hogs and ethanol, and so far the product has been coming from U.S. corn and frozen wheat from Saskatchewan .

A plant breeder with the co-op said that high yielding, low protein content and fusarium-resistant varieties are optimal for feed and ethanol production.

Fusarium resistance is important because fusarium creates DON, which is a toxin. Deoxynivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin may result in reduced feed consumption.

Even varieties like HY 644, an Ag Canada variety has yielded as much as eight parts per million of DON content, Plant Breeder said– and that’s unacceptable, as swine need minimal DON in their feed.

The co-op also seeks varieties low protein because lower protein means a higher starch content — important because starch is the major component of ethanol.

“It’s a unique breeding program because no one else is specifically targeting a feed wheat,” Plant Breeder explained. “As we produce more ethanol and require more feed wheat we might end up importing feed wheat so it is quite important for Western Canada (to grow it themselves) so we don’t have to import it.”

The problem so far has been registering the feed quality wheat because it is similar to Hard Red Spring (HRS) under kernel visual distinguishability (KVD). “We hope what we produce doesn’t look like HRS. That’s why a lot of other plant breeders aren’t doing this because they get frustrated and quit,” Rourke said.

The Western Feed Grain Development Co-op currently has 50 members, but Rourke said there’s a possibility of at least 10,000 farmers on the prairies to benefit from the group’s work.
Karli Flinta-Murphy

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