Small grain breeding program benefits producers, consumers, agribusiness

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 20, 2002 -- Declining prices since 1996 for wheat and barley have increased the need for producers to raise healthy, disease-free crops if they are to make any profit.

Carl Griffey, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences at Virginia Tech, leads the university's wheat and barley breeding programs to develop new varieties that are resistant to insects and disease while yielding large quantities of grain. He also researches and develops novel grains, such as hulless barley, that may allow area producers to grow crops especially for niche markets.

Virginia Tech releases barley and some wheat varieties on a public basis, but they also provide wheat varieties to private companies. The companies test experimental wheat lines for performance in their areas, and then obtain rights to market such varieties under their own brand name. This work is important, Griffey says, because there are only three private breeding programs developing varieties in the southeast and none have research facilities in the mid-Atlantic region.

"This friendly competition and cooperation between private and university breeding programs lead to better products," Griffey says. "In addition, our students are getting experience and training that prepares them to be plant breeders in the private sector."

One of Griffey's major objectives is to develop varieties that do not require the application of fungicides. That's an ambitious goal, because grains are susceptible to many diseases. But limiting fungicide use is important, Griffey says, not only to protect the environment, but also because the cost of a fungicide spray can make the difference between a net gain or loss on a crop.

"We need to keep working to produce varieties that are as high producing as possible with very few inputs of fungicides and insecticides," he says.

An additional problem results from the natural process through which disease resistance usually breaks

Contact: Carl A. Griffey
Virginia Tech

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