Promoting investments in national and international wheat research

By C. James Peterson, Professor, Oregon State University
Published in
Oregon Wheat Magazine by Oregon Wheat Grower’s League.   Help support the OWGL here

Wheat is in the news. US and world wheat stocks are at unprecedented lows as a consequence of increased demand, erratic weather, and reduced acreage. Prices for wheat grain and flour are at unprecedented highs, pushed in part by the growing demand for maize for both feed and biofuels. There are renewed concerns regarding food and nutrition for the world’s poor and food security of developing countries, as evidenced by recent food riots. Food price inflation is being fueled by increasing oil and transportation costs. Wheat producers are facing new threats from global climate change, water shortages, and increasingly virulent diseases and insects. A new race of stem rust, Ug99, has appeared in Africa which now threatens wheat production worldwide. At this same time, US commitment and funding for international agricultural research, critical for world food security, is poised for unprecedented cuts in FY08 and FY09. Federal funding for wheat research through USDAAgricultural Research Service and State Agricultural Experiment Stations (USDA-CSREES) continues to decline through attrition and complacency. Our abilities to respond to new and ongoing production threats, to increase agricultural productivity and sustainability, and to meet the growing world demand for grain, are being jeopardized. More than just ‘holding-our-own’, an infusion of new federal funds are needed to address critical challenges. Promoting investments in national and international wheat research International wheat research The US, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has been a long-term supporter of the International Agricultural Research Centers (IARC’s), including the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA). Reduced funding and internal inflexibilities leave USAID unable to fund the IARC’s in FY08, this current fiscal

year. This means a reduction of $25 million in core funding as compared with FY06. Additional cuts are anticipated in special project funding from USAID regional offices. FY09 outlook is less clear, but no more encouraging. These funding cuts will undermine a nearly 40 year US investment and threatens the centers most important research efforts, including the lasting legacies of the Green Revolution and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug. International Agricultural Research Centers are our first line of defense against emerging diseases and epidemics that affect our major crops. CIMMYT is now racing to prevent a potential disaster from a stem rust epidemic developing in south and west Asia. Since identified in Kenya and Uganda in 1999, the Ug99 race of stem rust has spread to Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, and Iran and now threatens critical wheat and barley producing areas of Iraq, Pakistan, India, Syria, and Turkey. Cutting back on funding now will critically undermine the global alliance working to prevent a pandemic of this aggressive disease. US farmers and consumers will be directly impacted by cuts in USAID funding to the IARC’s. US scientists and cereal breeders work in close collaboration with scientists at CIMMYT, ICARDA, IRRI and other centers. The cuts will seriously compromise our research capacity and reduce our access to international germplasm, which have been of critical importance in the past and are necessary for long-term crop improvement and breeding efforts. We have voiced our concerns to the responsible Congressional committees and the USAID Administrator, imploring both to immediately restore funding to the centers. There are great pressures, however, both globally and politically, on use of USAID funds. The good news is the recent announcement of a $26.8 million, three year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project. The Gates Foundation has embraced agriculture and agricultural research as key to improving lives in Africa and developing countries. Fifteen global partner institutions, including CIMMYT and ICARDA, will focus on combating stem rust and preventing crop losses in the most vulnerable developing countries. Bad news is that, for CIMMYT and ICARDA, this funding will only offset the reduced funding from USAID. National wheat research The USDA-Agricultural Research Service has long been impacted by flat or reduced funding without adequate provisions to cover increases in salaries, operating expenses, or inflation. In FY08, USDA-ARS faces a 0.7% budget rescission and absorbing $20 million in increased salary costs. This translates to substantial reductions in discretionary funds used for research, ranging from 20-25% in some research units. The Administration has routinely proposed terminations in individual USDA-ARS research units and projects for wheat and other crops, only to be saved in Senate or House Ag Appropriations bills or in Conference Committee. This year, for example, elimination of $1.95 million in funding for the Land Management and Water Conservation Unit in Pullman is

being proposed. Only through continued vigilance and efforts of the wheat industry have major programmatic losses been avoided. Hatch formula funds, important to base funding of land-grant universities such as OSU, are increasingly vulnerable and have been a target for major reductions by the Administration. For FY09, the Administration proposed a reduction in formula funds by $57 million. The Administration also has routinely proposed to redirect the for

mula funds to competitively awarded multi-state grants. If accomplished, the move would effectively cripple many land-grant university agricultural research programs. Core agricultural research programs, such as breeding, pathology, entomology, end-use quality, and crop management, require longterm financial and scientific investments and stable funding commitments. They cannot be effectively managed or supported through national or multi-state, short-term grant-funding mechanisms. Efforts by the Administration and Congress to increase funding for competitive grant programs, such as the USDACSREES National Research Initiative are certainly welcome. However, competitive grants for agricultural research must be balanced with adequate support for long-term USDA-ARS and CSREES directed-research programs, and not come at their expense. The US is not immune to Ug99 and we have yet to obtain adequate funding to address this critical vulnerability.
Nearly all hard red spring wheat varieties and over 75% of US winter wheat varieties are highly susceptible to the new races of stem rust. In the PNW, our vulnerability is primarily to stripe rust, rather than stem rust. However, we have been similarly faced with increasingly virulent races of stripe rust and increasing potential for production losses. For the past three years, the NWIC and NAWG have promoted funding of a Cereal Rust Disease Initiative through the USDA-ARS to address our vulnerability to all three rusts; stripe, leaf and stem. Pieces of funding for increased rust research have been in play, as proposed in the Administration’s budget and Senate or House Ag Appropriations bills for FY07 or FY08, only to be lost in final budget negotiations each year. Time for a renewed commitment As Chair of the National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC), I have Oregon Wheat Commission R E P O R T been working with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and North American Miller’s Association (NAMA) to convey critical issues and advocate for federal investments in wheat research. This past March, researchers, growers, and millers from 13 states met with USDA-ARS Administrators and Congressional staff in 60 Senate and House offices. We used the opportunity to provide updates on the Ug99 stem rust situation and promote increased federal research investments in pathology, entomology, end-use quality, germplasm enhancement, molecular genetics, and international agriculture. From the Pacific Northwest, special thanks go out to Tom Duyck, Oregon Wheat Commission; John Moffatt, Agripro Coker; Bob Fesler, Horizon milling; and Luther Talbert, Montana State University for joining in this important effort. My sincere thanks also to Daren Coppock and Barry Morton, NAWG, and Jane DeMarchi, NAMA, for all their hard work in DC. For further information, the NWIC and NAWG Research Priorities for FY09 have been posted at http://cropandsoil.oregonstate. edu/wheat/reports/NWIC/Promoting long-term investments in research is difficult in these tough budget times. The headlines are becoming louder, however, and challenges and vulnerabilities greater. The time has come for a renewed commitment to US and international agricultural research. It is not just about productivity and economics, its now an issue of world food security. ?

— By C. James Peterson, Professor, Wheat Breeding and Genetics,Warren E. Kronstad Endowed Chair for Wheat Research, Chair, National Wheat Improvement Committee, Department of Crop and Soil Science, Oregon State University

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