Dr. Robert Graf Creates Winter Wheat in Western Canada
This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
Growing crops that survive our harsh western Canadian winters might seem like an impossible task, but 2016 ASTech Award Winner for Innovation in Agriculture Dr. Robert Graf has been helping make this a reality through his work with winter wheat cultivars.
Winter wheat production in western Canada has undergone tremendous growth since 1999, when Graf moved to Alberta to start working on the crop. From around 200,000 acres, winter wheat has grown to more than one million acres in 2014. Part of the reason for this is Graf’s many innovations, including the development of eight new cultivars of winter wheat in the past eight years.
One of Graf’s first major innovations came in spring wheat in 1997, when he lead the team that registered the first wheat cultivar in North America developed using doubled haploid techniques. This process involves cells with a single set of unpaired chromosomes undergoing chromosome doubling and regeneration into plants. By doing this, Graf reduced the time from concept to commercialization by up to four years. This process was quickly adopted by other wheat breeding programs and is now used worldwide.
Graf then focused on winter wheat and quickly revolutionized production in western Canada. One of his winter wheat cultivars, Emerson hard red winter wheat, was registered in 2012 and became the first wheat in Canada to be granted a “Resistant” rating to Fusarium head blight disease. This devastating wheat disease has cost the Canadian agriculture industry more than $1 billion in reduced yield and quality.
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Dr. Robert Graf is changing the way wheat is grown through the development of unique wheat cultivars, including one which became the first wheat in Western Canada to have a resistant rating to Fusarium head blight disease, a billion dollar agricultural problem.