Modernizing wheat breeding to prepare the major food crop for changing climate conditions is the goal of a new five-year, $15 million national research project.

“Everything is changing so you need to be fast,” U.C. Davis professor Jorge Dubcovsky, who is the lead scientist, said in a statement. “You need to be able to adapt fast.”

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant will support 20 PhD students whose field work will include gathering data via drones and who will contribute to lab work aimed at building breeding platforms to quickly transfer newly developed traits into elite wheat varieties.

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“This grant is essential to maintain modern and effective public breeding programs in the U.S.,” Dubcovsky said. Unlike other major grain crops, wheat breeding is not a primary focus of private companies. Instead, farmers rely on public research institutions for improvements. “This grant allows us to do breeding at a level that a good, modern company would do,” Dubcovsky said. 

USDA Agricultural Research Service offices in North Dakota, Washington, Kansas and North Carolina are collaborating with teams at 22 land-grant universities across the country as part of the program.  

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