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APG Pulse Research Supporting a Growing Industry Through Genetic Improvement (PCN Summer 2016) JUN 24 2016 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Successful growth of an industry can be attributed to numerous factors. In agriculture, environmental suitability, market acceptance and demand, logistical feasibility in planting and harvesting, as well as delivery of product and familiarity can all play into producers’ decisions to grow or not to grow one crop or another.

As an industry, we work to mitigate all of those risk factors by developing research questions that address all aspects of the above elements to maximize the opportunity for our growers to enjoy successful production, which is most often measured by economic return.

Genetic improvement is foundational to all agronomy, processing and human health research that the Alberta Pulse Growers’ strategic plan identifies as a priority. Plant breeding is a complex topic that balances the desire for increasing yields with disease resistance, particular quality traits, removal of anti-nutritional characteristics, drought/wet/hot/cold resistance, etc. It is truly an impossible task to put all of the desired traits into one single variety.

Nothing moves quickly in the world of plant breeding because development of a single new variety takes 10-13 generations from the initial two parent cross until a new variety is successfully commercialized and available to growers. Much effort goes into developing methods to shorten the generation times. Winter nurseries in alternative locations, greenhouses and genetic mapping are all tools used to increase the efficiency of this process.

APG invests a considerable portion of its annual research budget into genetic development prior to commercialization. The organization is fortunate to have a number of passionate scientists engaged in the genetic improvement of peas, lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, soybeans and faba beans in Western Canada. APG provides funding through support of breeding programs, as well as directed to specific projects that address key issues.

Current APG funding commitments are directed towards 11 projects in genetic improvement with a total of $1,488,155 being directed towards all pulse crop types grown in Alberta (peas, lentils, faba beans, dry beans and soybeans) with the exception of chickpeas. The exponential growth in pulse acreage across the prairies has been largely supported by the strong genetic foundation and it continues to be an extremely high priority for APG. There are four entities actively working on pulse genetics in Western Canada and APG supports all of these at a pre-commercialization stage to optimize growth.

Research, in particular longterm research, is essential to grow pulse industry in the province, said Mark Olson, Unit Head – Pulse Crops for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“If you think to three large acreage crops of canola, lentil and field pea that basically were not grown on the prairies some 50 years ago, one really can attest to the power of genetic adaptability and improvement,” he noted. “However, government and industry alike have to get their heads around genetic improvement doesn’t happen in three or four years or even 10 or 12 years, but the investment in this area as in the pulse industry, pegged at $4.2B in Canada in 2015, can attest that it is well worth it.”

An example of a long-term pulse research project is the five-year long Evaluation of Field Pea and Faba Bean Germplasm for Alberta Growers project that Olson is involved in. Project proponents applied for funding in December 2012 under Growing Forward II, Pulse Science Cluster, and is jointly funded by APG, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF), and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The funding for this project ends March 31, 2018.

There are at least 20 different experiments at each of the three locations in north-central Alberta. APG is looking at future funding for expanding this type of pre-competitive genetic research. We are particularly interested in adding locations in southern Alberta to better support growing regions in the brown and dark brown soil zones.

The Alberta pulse industry’s goal for the project is to grow from five per cent of the annual cropped acres (one million) in 2012 to 15 per cent (three million) over the following decade. This will be accomplished through the project’s key objective of identifying superior pulse varieties suitable for Alberta, which will increase production per acre at a similar cost resulting in a reduction in cost per unit of product.

The three distinct components of this project are: Screening of new pulse genetics at three locations; Western Canada pulse co-op testing program (field pea and faba bean) at 19 voluntary sites; and Regional Variety Testing at 19 locations.

“I’ve heard comments, this or that crop kind is too tropical for this part of the world and we have been questioned about why we are researching it,” Olson explained. “One only has to think of where many crops we grow today on the prairies originated, such as the fertile crescent of Middle East or in the case for dry bean, originating in Meso America. I truly believe it is a matter of finding genetics with some adaptation to the prairies and further improving upon them.”