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Resilient Crops Developed through Research and Breeding

By Shalyn McKenna, Communications Consultant

Dr. Aaron Beattie
Dr. Aaron Beattie, photo by Christina Weese.

Saskatchewan experienced a widespread drought in 2021, with significantly lower yields across much of the province. With these challenges, it is important to keep an eye on the work researchers are conducting to develop crop varieties that can better tolerate adverse weather conditions to maintain yield and quality.

One such group of researchers are the crop breeders and pathologists in the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan. We spoke to one of the crop breeders at the CDC, Dr. Aaron Beattie, Associate Professor and Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program (SRP) Chair in Barley and Oat Breeding and Genetics, about the opportunities dry years like 2021 provide to researchers like him.

Dr. Beattie’s research focuses primarily on milling oats and malt barley, with some work on forage oats and food barley. Varieties being developed include those needing less inputs from fertilizer and fungicides and crops being able to grow to their fullest extent in challenging weather conditions.

“This year’s dry conditions gave breeders an opportunity to take advantage of these circumstances to evaluate how some varieties and breeding lines in their program may thrive compared to others,” Dr. Beattie stated.

Dry years emphasize the need to test breeding material annually and to expose the plants to variable weather in order to ensure varieties provide stable yields to producers.

“Our focus is on producing varieties that are not only good for the producer, but also for the consumer,” Dr. Beattie explained. “Our goal is to have varieties that need fewer inputs in order to grow the most productive crop.”

This year, because of high temperatures and minimal moisture, some research sites were not helpful as researchers couldn’t see discernable difference in the breeding lines. Yields in other trial locations that made it through the summer are currently being analyzed.

“Any year where we have weather extremes, it allows us to identify breeding lines in the program that perform best under the conditions presented to us,” he explained. “You usually see some lines perform better than others and over time that builds the strength or resilience of the germplasm in the breeding program which in turn produces better varieties.”

If you have further questions about crop breeding, the research being conducted, genetics and more, visit the Crop Development Centre’s website or call 306‑966‑5855.

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