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Key Australian farmers visit CIMMYT

From 19-22 August 2011, CIMMYT hosted six leading Australian grain farmers at Toluca and El Batán. The visit formed part of a tour of farms, private and public research institutes and grain processing facilities in Singapore, UK, France, Canada, USA, and Mexico, which was supported by Australia’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

At Toluca Research Station the group learned about CIMMYT’s wheat breeding efforts from Wheat Breeder Ravi Singh. Of particular interest were the developments concerning stem rust race Ug99, which has reached South Africa, and risks spreading from there to western Australia, if previous disease trends occur. Stripe rust resistance, increased yield potential, and tolerance to drought and heat were also discussed; GRDC invests in this research in view of CIMMYT’s past and current contributions to higher and more stable wheat yields in Australia.

CIMMYT’s efforts to increase diversity and improve disease resistance and productivity through wide crosses with ancestors, using re-synthesized breadwheats and translocations from more distant relatives of wheat were also outlined by Wheat Geneticist David Bonnett. Station Manager, Fernando Delgado, also presented work on CIMMYT’s long-term agronomy trials, including the technique of staggering the planting of maize using offset precision planting discs, in which maize plants in neighboring rows are not planted directly next to each other. This leads to reduced competition between neighbors, and potential yield increases in hybrids of up to 10%, with no additional inputs. The farmers said they are keen to try these ideas on their farms, which are spread across very different production environments, and range from an irrigated 800ha to 5000ha rainfed.

On Monday the group visited El Batán for further talks by Marianne Bänziger (Deputy Director General, Research & Partnership), Etienne Duveiller (Associate Director, GWP), and Peter Wenzl (Project Lead, SeeD). They also visited the Genebank and saw more GRDC-funded rust resistance research in the field, presented by Sybil Herrera-Foessel (Wheat Geneticist/ Pathologist). Finally, Nele Verhulst further explained the long-term agronomy trials.

The visit also included an informal meeting with the Australian Ambassador to Mexico. The Ambassador expressed interest in the links between CIMMYT and Australia, and the global role of CIMMYT in improving the productivity and sustainability of wheat- and maize-based cropping systems. This view was reiterated by the farmers, who were impressed with the value Australia receives from the GRDC’s investment in CIMMYT. The farmers were also accompanied by GRDC’s Communications Manager, and Gregor Heard of Australia’s Rural Press. The farmers themselves will also write a blog post about the visit, which can be found here.