Speed breeding technique sows seeds of new green revolution

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Brande Wulff of the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom was one of the authors of a new study that reveals a method called "speed breeding."

Pioneering new technology is set to accelerate the global quest for crop improvement in a development which echoes the Green Revolution of the post war period.

The speed-breeding platform developed by teams at the John Innes Centre, University of Queensland and University of Sydney, uses a glasshouse or an artificial environment with enhanced lighting to create intense day-long regimes to speed up the search for better performing crops.

Using the technique, the team has achieved wheat generation from seed to seed in just eight weeks. These results appear in Nature Plants.

This means that it is now possible to grow as many as six generations of wheat every year – a threefold increase on the shuttle-breeding techniques currently used by breeders and researchers.

Dr. Brande Wulff of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, a lead author on the paper, explains why speed is of the essence: “Globally, we face a huge challenge in breeding higher yielding and more resilient crops. Being able to cycle through more generations in less time, will allow us to more rapidly create and test genetic combinations and find the best combinations for different environments.”

For many years the improvement rates of several staple crops have stalled, leading to a significant impediment in the quest to feed the growing global population and address the impacts of climate change.

Speed breeding, says Wulff, offers a potential new solution to a global challenge for the 21st century.

“People said you may be able to cycle plants fast, but they will look tiny and insignificant, and only set a few seed. In fact, the new technology creates plants that look better and are healthier than those using standard conditions. One colleague could not believe it when he first saw the results.”

The exciting breakthrough has the potential to rank, in terms of impact, alongside the shuttle-breeding techniques introduced after the second world war as part of the green revolution.

Wulff goes on to say: “I would like to think that in 10 years from now you could walk into a field and point to plants whose attributes and traits were developed using this technology.”

This technique uses fully controlled growth environments and can also be scaled up to work in a standard glass house. It uses LED lights optimized to aid photosynthesis in intensive regimes of up to 22 hours per day.

LED lights significantly reduce the cost compared to sodium vapour lamps which have long been in widespread use but are ineffective because they generate much heat and emit poor quality light.

The international team also prove that the speed breeding technique can be used for a range of important crops. They have achieved up to six generations per year for bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, pea and chickpea; and four generations for canola. This is a significant increase compared with widely used commercial breeding techniques.

Speed breeding, when employed alongside conventional field-based techniques, can be an important tool to enable advances in understanding the genetics of crops.

“Speed breeding as a platform can be combined with lots of other technologies such as CRISPR gene editing to get to the end result faster,” explains Dr. Lee Hickey from the University of Queensland.

The study shows that traits such as plant pathogen interactions, plant shape and structure, and flowering time can be studied in detail and repeated using the technology.

The speed breeding technology has been welcomed by wheat breeders who have become early adopters.

Ruth Bryant, wheat pathologist at RAGT Seeds Ltd., Essex, UK, said: “Breeders are always looking for ways to speed up the process of getting a variety to market so we are really interested in the concept of speed breeding. We are working closely with Dr. Wulff’s group at the John Innes Centre to develop this method in a commercial setting.”

Dr. Allan Rattey, a wheat crop breeder with Australian company Dow AgroSciences, has used the technology to breed wheat with tolerance to pre-harvest sprouting (PHS), a major problem in Australia.

“Environmental control for effective PHS screening and the long time taken to cycle through several cycles of recurrent selection were major bottle necks. The speed breeding and targeted selection platform have driven major gains for both of these areas of concerns.”

Source: John Innes Centre

Agrium and PotashCorp Merger Completed Forming Nutrien

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Nutrien Ltd. today announced the successful completion of the merger of equals between Agrium Inc. and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc., creating the world’s premier provider of crop inputs and services.

According to a news release, Nutrien has the largest crop nutrient production portfolio combined with a global retail distribution network that includes more than 1,500 farm retail centres. With nearly 20,000 employees – and operations and investments in 14 countries – the company is committed to providing products and services that help growers optimize crop yields and their returns.

“Today we are proud to launch Nutrien, a company that will forge a unique position within the agriculture industry,” said Chuck Magro, president and chief executive officer of Nutrien. “Our company will have an unmatched capability to respond to customer and market opportunities, focusing on innovation and growth across our retail and crop nutrient businesses. Importantly, we intend to draw upon the depth of our combined talent and best practices to build a new company that is stronger and better equipped to create value for all our stakeholders.”

Nutrien Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team

Nutrien’s board of directors has equal representation from Agrium and PotashCorp. Jochen Tilk will serve as the executive chair, with Derek Pannell as the board’s independent lead director. Rounding out Nutrien’s senior leadership team is Wayne Brownlee, executive vice president and chief financial officer, and Steve Douglas, executive vice president and chief integration officer.

Additional members of Nutrien’s senior leadership team include:

  • Harry Deans, executive vice president and president, nitrogen
  • Michael Frank, executive vice president and president, retail
  • Kevin Graham, executive vice president and president, sales
  • Susan Jones, executive vice president and president, phosphate
  • Lee Knafelc, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer
  • Leslie O’Donoghue, executive vice president and chief strategy and corporate development officer
  • Joe Podwika, executive vice president and chief legal officer
  • Brent Poohkay, executive vice president and chief information officer
  • Raef Sully, executive vice president and president, potash
  • Mike Webb, executive vice president and chief human resources officer