“This year has been terrible for wheat production,” said Yuriy Zelenskiy, CIMMYT wheat breeder in Kazakhstan. “Since planting, there have been 60 days without rain, and the temperature has been on average between three and five degrees higher than normal,” he added. Drought and heat-tolerant wheat varieties were among the major topics during the 10th International Meeting at the Kazakhstan-Siberian Network on Wheat Improvement (KASIB) held during 6-9 August 2012 at Kostanay and Karabalyk Agricultural Experimental Station in Kazakhstan. The meeting was attended by 35 leading breeders and agricultural specialists from Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as experts from CIMMYT, JSC “KazAgroInnovation”, and representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan.
KASIB was established by CIMMYT in 2000 to foster international collaboration in the region. The network currently includes 19 breeding programs in Kazakhstan and Russia, representing an area of over 20 million hectares of spring wheat production. Each of the breeding programs provides three lines for testing by each partner, and the 50 best lines are then selected and distributed throughout the network to increase efficiency and speed up the process of wheat breeding.
Kazakhstan is among the top ten wheat producers in the world. This year, the crop was sown on 16 million hectares, though it was estimated that over 7 thousand hectares of wheat were destroyed as a result of severe drought. Kazakhstan’s grain harvest is expected to reach 14 million tons, 50% less than last year. While this output is still above the yearly average (about 13 million tons), last year’s record yield of almost 23 million tons showed the potential with the use of drought-tolerant wheat varieties. The situation is similar in the rest of the region: wheat production in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan is estimated to be 30% less than 2011 yields.
Over 15,000 lines have been exchanged and tested through KASIB network since its inception. KASIB materials are tested for 20 traits, such as resistance to diseases and drought and heat tolerance, and include high-yielding varieties best suited for this agro-ecological zone. “This kind of international cooperation is the best way to introduce new varieties,” stated Muratbek Karabayev, CIMMYT representative in Kazakhstan.