Thinking Locally, Linking Globally: Small Grains Spotlight
P. Stephen Baenziger, professor of agronomy and horticulture, discusses a brief history of Nebraska wheat as well as the Small Grains Breeding Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and its impact on a global scale. Dr. Baenziger has served as the Nebraska Wheat Growers Presidential Chair, professor of plant breeding and genetics, and steward of the Small Grains Breeding Program at the university.
This video premiered at the Global Teach Ag Network World Tour in 2021.
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[00:00:04.138]So for the last 34 years,
[00:00:06.150]I've had the honor of being the steward
[00:00:08.690]of the Small Grains Program, wheat, barley and triticale
[00:00:11.920]for the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:13.870]So one of the things that is really great about wheat,
[00:00:17.870]is it is probably the most widely grown crop in the world,
[00:00:21.160]it provides humanity.
[00:00:22.410]20% of all of the calories we use to consume for energy,
[00:00:26.990]and 20% of all the protein we consume for our bodies,
[00:00:31.170]and a lot of the fiber.
[00:00:32.770]The thing that people need to understand
[00:00:35.400]is that all breeding programs are local.
[00:00:38.020]So everything we do is to breed
[00:00:40.070]for the target set of environments,
[00:00:41.740]which for us is Nebraska.
[00:00:43.610]We have three main eco zones, the East, the Southwest
[00:00:47.040]and the Panhandle or the West.
[00:00:48.770]The crop, wheat, is not native to America.
[00:00:51.930]It's not native to the New World.
[00:00:53.390]It actually came out of the Middle East originally,
[00:00:56.460]but all of our wheats came in by the European explorers.
[00:01:00.900]And so in Nebraska before 1870
[00:01:06.590]we grew English spring wheat,
[00:01:08.640]totally unadapted, very poor yielding.
[00:01:11.320]And it wasn't until Mennonite farmers moved to Kansas
[00:01:15.160]and brought with them what we call the step wheats
[00:01:18.640]out of Turkey, and Crimea, and Southern Russia
[00:01:22.050]that we actually had winter wheats
[00:01:23.460]that were adapted to this area.
[00:01:26.410]So when that happened, Turkey Red became
[00:01:29.060]the most widely grown wheat in the country.
[00:01:31.860]And so ever since then,
[00:01:33.840]we've been sourcing wheats from its traditional home.
[00:01:38.173]One of the things that's interesting to us
[00:01:41.300]is that we still go back to the sources of wheat
[00:01:44.410]to get new germplasm.
[00:01:46.210]So for example, the beauty of wheat in the U.S.
[00:01:50.720]is we got the wheat and we left many
[00:01:52.600]of the pests and diseases behind.
[00:01:55.380]But as those pests and diseases migrate,
[00:01:58.590]they eventually catch up.
[00:01:59.720]And so like the Russian wheat aphid,
[00:02:02.410]it came here, oh about 1986,
[00:02:05.340]little earlier than that, early 1980s.
[00:02:07.520]We get our sources of resistance from Iran.
[00:02:11.220]Many of the races have stem rust,
[00:02:13.270]and stripe rust and leaf rust
[00:02:15.290]are much more virulent in Africa, and in Asia
[00:02:18.500]and in Europe than they are here.
[00:02:20.360]So we go back to those areas
[00:02:22.730]to get better sources of resistance
[00:02:25.080]to protect our crop against the diseases we have here,
[00:02:29.260]as well as to prepare for future diseases that may come.
[00:02:33.372]Now with that, and because it's introduced crop here,
[00:02:37.586]we feel very strongly that we need to share back
[00:02:41.485]and make that sharing mutually.
[00:02:44.450]So we actually have had in the past,
[00:02:46.790]a week from our program released in Turkey,
[00:02:49.700]another week released in South Africa.
[00:02:52.400]Currently we have one of our current wheats
[00:02:55.670]now being licensed in Turkey.
[00:02:58.070]And we also work very closely
[00:03:00.059]with the Great International Centers, CIMMYT,
[00:03:03.470]International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement,
[00:03:05.910]and ICARDA, the International Center for Agriculture
[00:03:08.620]in the Dry Areas,
[00:03:10.180]both of which have drought-tolerant wheats,
[00:03:12.460]disease-resistant wheats, heat-tolerant wheats.
[00:03:15.740]They work mainly with spring wheat
[00:03:17.400]and we take a lot of our germplasm and put it in...
[00:03:21.010]their germplasm and put into our germplasm
[00:03:23.210]and make winter growth habit.
[00:03:25.010]And then because we have a much more severe winter
[00:03:27.780]than either ICARDA or CIMMYT has for their germplasm
[00:03:31.405]because they use Turkey,
[00:03:32.680]which is more like an Oklahoma winter,
[00:03:35.110]but their global mandate suggests
[00:03:36.890]that they should go further North.
[00:03:39.150]They use our program as a winter selection site
[00:03:42.822]to select for winter hardy materials
[00:03:45.183]that we then shipped back to the international center.
[00:03:48.340]So not only do we benefit from the international centers
[00:03:52.000]and international germplasm exchange,
[00:03:54.520]we also give back to those same centers
[00:03:56.522]and they benefit from having our program
[00:03:58.968]work with them.
[00:03:59.801]The wheat program at the university of Nebraska
[00:04:02.140]has a very long and very proud tradition.
[00:04:05.030]We do actually three crossing blocks a year.
[00:04:07.670]This is the forth one.
[00:04:09.240]This is the one where if I see a line
[00:04:11.040]that I really want to work on quickly,
[00:04:12.850]I do that immediately, put it in this house.
[00:04:15.970]The main crossing block actually occurs in March,
[00:04:18.314]we do that once a year.
[00:04:20.420]This crossing block once we get done here,
[00:04:23.290]we'll harvest the seed, verbalize it
[00:04:25.550]and get the next generation in the spring.
[00:04:28.350]So we get two years for two cycles in one year
[00:04:32.450]which saves us a lot of time.
[00:04:34.550]And the way, you know, any breeding program has three steps.
[00:04:37.930]One is, the first one is to make the cross,
[00:04:41.080]and that's where you think about all the things
[00:04:42.900]that could come out of the cross.
[00:04:44.960]The second one is to inbreed and select,
[00:04:48.350]and that's where you see which lines look very good.
[00:04:52.720]Actually you'll remember where you saw it
[00:04:55.900]in the field,
[00:04:57.110]where the sun was shining,
[00:04:58.210]whether the wind was blowing,
[00:04:59.310]all of those types of things.
[00:05:01.140]And in the last phase is the evaluation phase,
[00:05:04.210]where after you've selected, what you think are good lines
[00:05:06.490]you really find those that work extremely well.
[00:05:09.560]And they're tests that all across the States.
[00:05:12.000]And we often have over a hundred testing sites
[00:05:14.760]by the time we release a line.
[00:05:16.930]And the last part is important
[00:05:18.270]because when you see a line that's really, really good,
[00:05:23.148]what a breeder will remember,
[00:05:26.330]is when that line's grown on millions of acres,
[00:05:30.000]and we held all of the seed of it
[00:05:32.440]in the Palm of our hand.
[00:05:34.450]And that's what breeding is capable of doing.
[00:05:37.350]So when we share our germplasm,
[00:05:39.800]they use it as a parent and they create something better.
[00:05:43.210]And so that's probably the biggest impact
[00:05:45.460]that we've had.
[00:05:46.293]That, and we've trained well over
[00:05:48.490]probably close to 70 to 100 students.
[00:05:51.670]And they've gone all over the world.
[00:05:53.380]My varieties, my cultivars,
[00:05:54.667]those types of things, will be useful,
[00:05:58.500]but there'll be short term,
[00:06:00.400]I mean, you know, they, they have a moment in the sun
[00:06:02.290]and they're done,
[00:06:04.000]but the students that you train
[00:06:05.360]they're the ones that will be forever
[00:06:08.790]and they'll be training the next generation
[00:06:10.103]and the generation after that.
[00:06:12.450]And so that's probably the greatest impacts that we have.
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