NWF Blog: Making the Case for Research Funding for Wheat

By: Taylre Beaty, NAWG Intern, Summer 2018

Unlike production of corn and soybeans, wheat is down this season by roughly 4 million acres.  There are a few different factors that contributed to planting decisions for the 2017-2018 season.  One of the greatest factors that have caused farmers to shift production this season is a lack of growth in wheat yields in comparison to those of corn and soybeans.

NAWG’s Director of Research & Technology, Steve Joehl says that a lack of wheat breeding research is playing a part in these trends.  Most research funding for wheat is from the USDA and state checkoff programs, while many private companies contribute to research for other crops.  This causes a gap in research funding for wheat in comparison to corn and soybeans.

In addition, hybridization of wheat is more expensive and takes more time than corn.  Researchers at Texas A&M University are working on developing wheat hybrids under a grant funded program at USDA.  Another topic of discussion regarding wheat yield is genetically modified organisms, but the negative public perception is stalling research on GMO food products.

Farm Journal covered the report and interview Joehl on this issue:

Wheat ranks third among U.S. field crops in planted acreage, production, and gross farm receipts, behind corn and soybeans. Production has, however, dropped off over the past decade. USDA estimates U.S. farmers planted 46 million acres to wheat for the 2017-2018 growing season, down from 50 million in 2016-2017 and over 63 million in 2008. In contrast, U.S. farmers this spring planted over 90 million acres each of corn and soybeans.

Market fundamentals certainly influence planting decisions, but steady gains in corn and soybean yields also have helped motivate farmers to plant those crops while gains in wheat yields have fallen behind. According to a University of Minnesota study, global wheat yields are increasing at a rate of 0.9% annually, compared with 1.6% for corn and 1.3% for soybeans. USDA figures show similar trends.

A shortage of research finding for wheat breeding plays a key role in the yield trends, says Steve Joehl, Director Research & Technology at the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). He estimates that total annual spending on wheat-breeding research averages around $150 million, compared with near $2 billion for soybeans and $3 billion for corn. Private-sector seed companies account for the lion’s share of funding for corn and soybean research, while most funding for wheat projects comes from USDA or state wheat-producer checkoff programs, Joehl says.

These two key barriers have limited progress in wheat-breeding research.

The full article can be accessed on Ag Web.