Source: Bayer CropScience

"Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action
," a winter wheat research and education initiative, facilitated by Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited, announced the inclusion of South Dakota State University (SDSU) as the program's first research partner. The announcement was made at the SDSU Innovation Campus Wednesday.

Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited joined forces in early 2009 to launch the initiative as a way to expand winter cereal acres in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America to support modern agriculture and to benefit waterfowl in North America's Prairie Pothole region.

In recent years, winter wheat production has gained a foothold on North America's prairies acres. New varieties, improved marketing options and the agronomic advantages provided by the crop make it an attractive choice for growers to include in their crop rotation.

Geoff Kneen, vice president and head of bioscience RTP operations for Bayer CropScience, said SDSU will be a critical contributor to the program's overall success. "The plant breeding teams at SDSU will help guide the research and development of new winter wheat traits," he said. "By joining forces with the universities, we're able to invest in the next generation of varieties and technologies to ensure continued production of a safe and abundant supply of cereals to meet future food demands."

"Our goal is to enable cereal growers to produce more food on the same amount of land while preserving and improving the habitat important to North America’s waterfowl and other wildlife."

The Prairie Pothole Region extends from western Iowa and Minnesota, the eastern and central Dakotas, and into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The region supports more than 50 percent of North America's migratory waterfowl. During the past century, more than half of the potholes have been drained and converted to agriculture. Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action, will lead to expanded winter cereal acres — an excellent nesting habitat for ducks — in one of the most critical nesting regions on the continent.

Sue Blodgett, head of SDSU Department of Plant Science, said winter wheat production has multiple advantages in a rotational farming operation. "Since it is a fall seeded crop, it is a perfect fit in western regions that have limited moisture in the fall and wet conditions in the spring. It can also bring about the reduction of disease issues and pest problems through a successful crop rotation strategy."       

Specific to grower needs for the adoption of winter wheat on acres, Blodgett said the program's objectives support development of new varieties better suited to the region, with higher yields and higher profits, less risk and improved efficiency of labor, equipment and crop protection inputs.

Improving waterfowl habitat
Blake Vander Vorst, senior agronomist with Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, N.D., said winter-hardy, disease-resistant varieties that have good milling qualities are important incentives that should encourage growers to add winter wheat into their operations. He continued by saying a shift to more winter wheat acres also pays huge dividends for improving waterfowl habitats.

From a waterfowl conservation standpoint, Vander Vorst said one of the key limiting factors for continental waterfowl populations is a lack of nesting cover on the prairies.

"Our research in Canada has already shown that 24 times more nests are hatched in the fall-seeded crops such as winter wheat and winter rye than in spring-seeded crops," said Vander Vorst. "It comes down to the simple fact that there is no disturbance in the spring of the year. The seeding is done in the fall."
Both Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited are committed to developing varieties adapted to the Prairie Pothole Region, an area of nearly 300,000 square miles that hosts wetland habitats for more than half of the continent's ducks.            

"Ducks Unlimited has proven that winter wheat provides an excellent nesting habitat for ducks," said Kevin Kephart, vice president for research at SDSU. "To support the ecological demands in improving waterfowl habitat, Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action will serve a valuable purpose," he said. "North Dakota and South Dakota are home to some of the best waterfowl production wetlands in the United States. SDSU is proud to be part of the program in support of research that benefits wildlife conservation and also future sustainable crop production."

Under the Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action project the immediate focus is on comprehensive research in plant breeding. Vander Vorst said the next phase of the program could include agronomic and pest management research.        

Winning for producers, sportsmen, consumers and wildlife
Rick Vallery, executive director of South Dakota Wheat Inc., said adding new winter wheat varieties adapted to the Dakotas is a win-win for producers, sportsmen, consumers and wildlife.

"Partnering, networking and coalition-building are key words in the South Dakota Wheat Inc. organization and the announcement of the Bayer CropScience/Ducks Unlimited/SDSU agreement is exciting," Vallery said. "South Dakota State University is known worldwide for its wheat breeding research capabilities. This announcement is a great example of working with worldwide private companies and private organizations toward a common goal that benefits many."

South Dakota producers planted 1.25 million acres of winter wheat last fall for the 2010 season, according to the U.S. Department of Agricultures National Agricultural Statistics Service, down from a high of 2.1 million acres in 2007. It is the smallest number of acres seeded to winter wheat in South Dakota since 1980.