Innovation    |   Wheat   

Wheat innovators are jubilant after hearing that they have received a new round of funding for a fourth phase of the Wheat Genetic Improvement Network. WGIN brings together researchers, breeders and now farmers to devise better varieties of the UK’s top cereal crop.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is providing £1.7 million for a 5-year programme that extends WGIN, founded in 2003, to at least 2023. The new contract, due to be signed in March, is being backdated to the beginning of this month and dovetails with the running down of the third phase.

“WGIN-4 has been fully accepted by Defra, with 1.5% more funding than WGIN-3” says Kim Hammond-Kosack, a cereals specialist at Rothamsted Research and WGIN’s leader and co-founder. “This is all exceptionally good news. Let’s hope years 15 to 20 of WGIN go as well as the first 15 years.”

For the first time, the network’s new contract includes an alliance with the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) with the aim of strengthening direct links to farmers.

Defra supports three other genetic improvement networks: for oil seed rape (OREGIN) in which Rothamsted is also a partner; for brassicas, leafy salads, onions and carrots (VeGIN); and for pulses (PCGIN). “The plan going forward is for the four GINS to be far more interconnected,” says Hammond-Kosack. One of Defra’s senior crop scientists, Andy Cuthbertson, has been appointed to start this new activity.

WGIN is led by Rothamsted and embraces a diverse range of academic scientists, industry-based breeders, researchers, development specialists and agricultural advisers as its stakeholders, which now also include AHDB.

“While industry breeding programmes tend to focus on introducing new crop varieties with greater yields and improved quality, WGIN focuses on new traits with characteristics that should improve crop resilience and sustainability,” says Hammond-Kosack.

“We explore such factors as improved responses to abiotic and biotic stress, efficiencies in the use of nutrients and canopy architecture,” she adds.

In November last year, WGIN successfully staged its 15th annual stakeholders meeting at Rothamsted, which also introduced a new five-year programme, Designing Future Wheat, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Source: Rothamsted Research

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