Crop Report 2014: Wheat

             Sally Howlett, Henry Creissen, Nick Fradgley, ORC, UK

     This report provides a progress update on the work being carried out on wheat as part of the COBRA project.Currently, trials of spring crops have had two full field seasons, whereas autumn sown crops have only had one, so many of the key results at this point are biased towards the former. Some of the key results and conclusions from the project to-date are listed below.

WP1: Seed Health and Quality

             Work on coordination of resistance breeding activities for seed borne diseases, which aims to map dwarf bunt resistance in winter wheat, has so far developed several mapping populations, each consisting of around 100 recombinant inbred lines (RILs).Approximately 800 RILs, representing populations containing 6 different sources of dwarf bunt resistance, will be tested further in 2014/15.
In a further task on resistance breeding, which aims to develop a collection of virulence races of common bunt, 98 wheat varieties were grown in 2012-13 and in 2013-14 after inoculation with fungal spores. It is hypothesised that two resistance genes are the main source of resistance in modern European wheat varieties, which will be tested in this season.Common bunt resistance studies in winter wheat populations have found no decrease in disease infection levels after selection over two seasons, suggesting that it is possible that selection pressures may be working to both increase bunt resistance in wheat and at the same time to increase the virulence of bunt.

WP2: Breeding for Resilience

1       Seed from a winter wheat composite cross population (CCP) known as YQ (initial crosses included highYield and high Quality parents, see right) continues to be passed around Europe in a cycle. Each year seed from the ‘cycling’ populations is harvested and sent to the next partner for cultivation alongside the ‘home’ population whichhas been maintained at their site. In 2014 several partners compared a number of different cycling CCPs (grown in different countries) to assess environmental resilience and the potential for local adaptation. Preliminary results show some significant differences between the populations, although for many traits no significant differences were found. The changing environmental effect on the cycling populations seems somewhat limited, indicating eitherpopulation stability for these traits, or that selection pressures were not strong enough to implement changes within the populations. Strong indications of local adaptation were not detected possibly due to the high amount of variability in recent growing seasons across Europe. Seed quality may also affect population performance. This issue will be studied in greater depth in the 2014/15 season.


Spring wheat field trials comparing the weed competitive ability of populations, mixtures, and homogeneous cultivars in Estonia, southern Sweden and Scotland have so far demonstrated that seed weight has a large influence on competitive ability. Genetics were also found to have an influence on weed suppression.
Above: Weed suppression trial involving winter wheat at ECRI in Estonia. Weed suppression ability correlated with increased seed weight, early vigour and overwintering capacity.

WP3: Improving breeding efficiency

             Research has been conducted to improve breeding methodology and strategies in wheat using automated and non-destructive high- throughput selection for quality parameters based on single seeds. Results showed that it is possible to increase or decrease the protein content and Zeleny value in spring wheat populations by single seed sorting of the seed before sowing, which may be a way to increase protein content in these populations in order to develop high quality baking wheat populations.
             The potential of simple methods of image analysis for the assessment of ground cover, biomass, leaf area index, senescence, leaf Chlorophyll content and grain yield has been investigated and a paper on this has been submitted to Field Crops Research.

               In France, several new approaches to 3breeding for diversity have been investigated. A new composite cross population has been created and will be compared to varieties and dynamic populations (mixtures of populations, see photo on right) in 2015.

WP4: Socio-economics and Legislation

             Trans-national case studies are underway to investigate a number of subjects, including: status quo analysis of organic wheat for bread and pasta for local bakeries and processors, in relation to organic wheat seed production and breeding (Slovenia); baking quality in wheat (Denmark);isues surrounding organic seed derogations and the import of organic feed from outside the EU (UK).


Published Papers:

Bertholdsson, N. Organic Agriculture: clues for weed prevention and control. Vigo, July 30–31, 2014. Early vigour and allelopathy – two useful breeding traits for improved weed competitive ability in wheat. Organic eprint

Brumlop, S.; Finckh, M. R. (2013) N-uptake in winter wheat pure line varieties and winter wheat composite cross populations in the F11. In: Conference Booklet – Breeding for Nutrient Efficiency – Joint Meeting of EUCARPIA Section Organic & Low-Input Agriculture and EU NUE-CROPS Project, (Göttingen, Germany, 24.-26. September 2013) H. C. Becker, E. T. Lammerts van Bueren, C. Leifert, and K. Thorup-Kristensen (eds.). 21. Organic eprint.

Finckh, M. R.; Heinrich, S.; Brumlop, S. (2014) Performance of wheat composite crosses on station and on-farm. In: Diversity strategies for organic and low systems. Book of abstracts of SOLIBAM final congress, Nantes, 7-9 July 2014, V. Chable, I. Goldringer, S. A. Howlett, P. Barberi, P. Miko, P. M. R. Mendes-Moreira, M. Rakszegi, H. Ostergaard, A. Borgen, M. R. Finckh, T. Pedersen, and R. Bocci (eds.). 107-108. Organic eprint.

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