Celebrating 10 years of midge tolerant wheat stewardship

Posted on February 13, 2020

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Saskatchewan producers have been successfully seeding Midge Tolerant Wheat varieties for the past 10 growing seasons. That’s a significant milestone for a technology that was launched with stewardship strings attached. 

“Since day one, Midge Tolerant Wheat growers have had to sign a Stewardship Agreement that limits the use of farm-saved seed to one generation past Certified,” says Mike Espeseth, Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) communications manager and co-chair of the Midge Tolerant Wheat Stewardship Committee. This requirement ensures the variety’s built-in refuge is maintained, which prevents the development of a resistant midge population.

“When the technology was introduced to growers in 2009, we explained that without an interspersed refuge system, midge tolerance could break down within 10 years. We’ve maintained this message over the past decade and are grateful to growers and industry for respecting it.”

Several significant milestones have been achieved thanks to this ongoing commitment, starting with a growth in the number of Midge Tolerant Wheat varieties available to producers. At launch, just four varieties were available – today, there are 35. 

“There’s now just about something in every wheat class,” says Todd Hyra, Western Business Manager for SeCan, one of the first companies to offer a Midge Tolerant Wheat variety to growers. “In addition, a broad range of adaptation has happened within the genetics. It’s a very complete management package for producers.”

According to Statistics Canada data, 27 million acres of Midge Tolerant Wheat have been grown across the Prairies since its first planting in 2009. An even more impressive number is the financial advantage to farms. 

“Research shows that producers achieve $36 per acre in yield and grade benefits when growing Midge Tolerant Wheat,” says Hyra. “When you apply that advantage across all those acres over the past 10 years, it adds up to an estimated $1 billion. That’s a significant return to producers.” 

This billion-dollar achievement has only been possible with the cooperation of many people. Prior to launching Midge Tolerant Wheat to growers, industry worked together to create a strategy to collectively manage the stewardship and ensure that resistance was not broken. The result was the Midge Tolerant Wheat Stewardship Committee – a broad industry coalition representing plant breeders, government, seed growers, seed distributors and producer groups. 

“It was really cool how everybody came together to ensure that the stewardship program was developed. It was very much a team approach,” says Hyra. “Today, we continue to work together to ensure that this technology lasts.”

A compliance survey is conducted annually to follow up with Midge Tolerant Wheat growers on their stewardship practices. “They are questioned in terms of understanding and respecting the technology, and results are consistently strong,” says Hyra. “In the past several years, 98 per cent of users have been in compliance.”

Another stewardship win is the fact that Midge Tolerant Wheat has prevented growers from having to spray to control orange blossom wheat midge. “This has resulted in several millions of litres of insecticide not purchased and not applied,” says Hyra. This not only saves growers time and input costs, but it reduces the environmental impact of an insecticide and decreases diesel fuel usage as well. 

Another impact of not spraying is the protection of beneficial insects. “If we’re not spraying the wheat, then we’re not spraying out the beneficial insects,” says Tyler Wist, Field Crop Entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada based in Saskatoon. When beneficials are protected, they are able to do their part in helping to control the midge population. 

Wist also points out that Midge Tolerant Wheat varieties have saved producers a lot of worry over the past decade. “It’s is just so convenient, right? Plant it and forget about it. You don’t have to be wandering through your wheat field on the July long weekend at dusk looking for little flies,” he says.

Hyra agrees that Midge Tolerant Wheat gives users peace of mind. “You just let the technology do its job,” he says. There have also been no reported incidences of resistant midge, which is evidence that the stewardship program is working.

The bottom line is that stewardship only works because of the commitment of everyone involved in the Midge Tolerant Wheat system – from the seed growers and distributors to the producers who plant it. 

“Midge Tolerant Wheat continues to be an effective tool because farmers and industry work together to preserve the technology,” says Espeseth.

“A big thanks to everyone who has done their part to protect this important technology,” adds Hyra. “This trait was identified by public breeders for the good of all wheat growers in Canada. All that we ask is that as an industry we take care of it for several more decades.”

For more information about midge tolerance and the Stewardship Agreement, visit midgetolerantwheat.ca.

Western Grains Research Foundation