Stephen A. Harrison
Development of new crop varieties is vital to the continuation of production agriculture in the southern United States. In recent years many of the commercially grown wheat varieties in the South have been developed by university breeders and marketed by private companies. Variety development, however, is expensive and requires a long-term commitment that depends on consistent funding and a sustained effort. For this reason many university breeding programs have been discontinued, and others are less productive than desired.
To help continue the supply of new small-grain varieties, a regional cooperative was established among five universities in 2005. Called SUNGRAINS (Southeastern UNiversity GRAINS), the cooperative’s mission is to more efficiently develop wheat, oat, rye and barley varieties for growers and seed producers across the region. The establishment of SUNGRAINS would not have been possible without a shared vision by the plant breeders and willingness on the part of administrators to move beyond traditional structure and institutional constraints.
The LSU AgCenter small-grain program took the lead role in developing the SUNGRAINS agreement, which includes the small-grain breeding programs of the University of Florida, University of Georgia, Clemson University and North Carolina Sate University. Collectively, the five breeders from these programs have released 34 wheat, 14 oat, five rye and six triticale varieties.
The SUNGRAINS agreement will increase efficiency of the breeding programs in a number ways. Before the agreement each breeding program was limited to testing within state, and only a few elite lines were ever evaluated on a regionwide basis. As a result, many lines developed by one program that had great potential in another state were discarded without having been tested where they might be best adapted. Under SUNGRAINS there is an agreement to do much more extensive testing on a regional basis, to share resources and breeding material, and to share in royalty revenues and serve as co-releasers on all varieties developed by SUNGRAINS breeders.
Each breeder in SUNGRAINS spends more time and resources assisting colleagues in the expanded testing program, but each breeder has a vested interest is doing so because of mutual ownership of the collective program. The end result should be the development of superior varieties at an accelerated pace and assurance of a continued supply of high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties. Other benefits include a greater ability of the breeding programs as a group to attract grant and federal funding and train graduate students, which helps ensure their survival and productivity. In the end SUNGRAINS is beneficial to all of the programs and their respective clientele.
(This article was published in the summer 2006 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)