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Hard red winter wheat breeding for eastern Canada

Principal Investigator: Gavin Humphreys  

Research Institution: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Timeline: April 2013 – March 2018


  • Development of hard red winter wheat varieties resistant/tolerant to abiotic (winter hardiness) and biotic (Fusarium head blight (FHB), powdery mildew, leaf and stem rust and bunt) stresses with good adaptation to eastern Canadian eco-zones and with excellent end use quality for the food industry and consumers.
  • Collaborative preliminary tests established at several locations across the various eco-zones to evaluate genetic lines from eastern Canadian hard red winter wheat public programs: AAFC (Ottawa Research & Development Centre (ORDC) and Charlottetown Research & Development Centre (CRDC)) and CEROM in Quebec.
  • Identify resistant/tolerant lines for various diseases (powdery mildew, Septoria, rust and bunt) in natural infection plots or nursery (ORDC & CRDC).
  • Identify resistant/tolerant lines in inoculated Fusarium nurseries and measurement of DON accumulation (DON-ELISA lab) (ORDC, CRDC).
  • Screening of early and advanced breeder’s lines for grain quality traits for bread applications (ORDC).
  • Test parental and F1 winter wheat breeding materials using molecular markers to improve parent selection and facilitate marker-assisted backcrossing.


  • Improved hard red winter wheat varieties for Eastern Canadian producers will improve the viability of the crop and wheat class in rotation and reduce yield and quality impacts of abiotic and biotic stresses.

Scientific Summary:

Winter wheat forms the basis for significant domestic processing and manufacturing of many value-added products. Most of the food processing capacity for wheat utilization in Canada is in Ontario and Quebec. There are also millers in the Maritimes that have been sourcing Maritime-grown hard wheat for years. Hard red winter wheat is used in a wide variety of bread and noodle products. Considering that a large quantity of the hard red wheat (mostly as spring type) used by eastern Canadian domestic food industries is sourced from western Canada, the hard red winter wheat class is the winter type with the greatest opportunity for expanded production in Eastern Canada. Winter wheat has many advantages, including substantially higher yields and better economic returns than spring wheat and significant environmental benefits. The ability of winter wheat to utilize early spring moisture and the earlier harvest period (compared to spring cereals) often facilitates escape from drought and heat stress of mid-July and August. It has a role in various rotations for reducing risk of fall/winter soil erosion plus, in the Maritimes, in nitrogen capture in a potato rotation.

Winter wheat production is an attractive option for cereal producers that can enhance and protect crop income, particularly in years that are difficult for spring crops. Areas of eastern Canada with longer, cooler growing seasons such as Atlantic Canada, Quebec and eastern and northern Ontario require varieties of winter wheat with a high degree of winter survival. Charlottetown has excellent winter survival pressure reflecting more severe winter conditions than some other locations. The Ottawa location is also prone to January thaws, one of the many abiotic stresses linked to winter conditions.

The soft winter wheat breeding component at ORDC will be discontinued by crop year 2014. The Canadian Eastern Hard Red Winter wheat activity for GF2 is a continuation of the hard red winter wheat breeding components present at AAFC ORDC and CRDC. This activity was partly supported in GF1 by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA) DIAP and partly by the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) cluster. A large part of the genetics in the program came from the hard red winter wheat program at AAFC Lethbridge where milling quality is emphasized. Screening for bread making potential in early and advanced wheat lines is an on-going activity at ORDC and CRDC as it is an integral part of breeding for milling quality wheat. Screening for various disease resistance/tole​rance is also an on-going activity that ensures successful development of adapted varieties.

This project has enabled the AAFC eastern winter wheat breeding pipeline to be strengthened with early generation nurseries at multiple locations (Harrow, Ottawa, and Charlottetown), permitting selection for broad adaptation. The “shuttle breeding approach” has allowed selection for superior winter hardiness at Ottawa in F2 followed by selection for high disease resistance at Harrow in F3. The AAFC-Ottawa doubled haploid (DH) lab continues to produce approximately 400 DH lines each winter. Most winter wheat varieties in eastern Canada were screened for genes associated with 10 valuable traits including resistance to various diseases (FHB, leaf rust etc.), plant height and the 1B/1R substitution which is associated with poor end use quality. It was discovered that the 1B/1R substitution is present in varieties 25R46 and 25W31. This revelation has proved to be extremely informative because these lines carry Fhb1, an important FHB resistance gene, and have been used in crosses in the AAFC program. The ORDC program has actively participated in all three eastern cereal registration committees and lines from the program have annually been entered into most eastern Canadian winter wheat registration tests. Unfortunately, no AAFC winter wheat lines have yet been supported for registration.

A new F4 nursey was established in Charlottetown which is aimed at strengthening the selection for winter wheat varieties adapted to eastern Quebec and the Maritimes. Crosses for both the hard red and soft white winter wheat breeding program were made, with some of the crosses made at the Harrow Research & Development Centre; thus, the program has increased the number of crosses we are able to conduct. The number of lines in ORDC yield trials was increased over 30% for 2017-18. In both 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, lines were entered into most eastern Canadian winter wheat registration tests.


A draft molecular map of the doubled haploid (DH) mapping population AC Morley x Emerson has been generated within Dr. Humphreys program.

Multiple breeding lines form the AAFC eastern winter wheat breeding program have been entered into the Ontario, Quebec or Maritime winter wheat registration trials and the data shared with collaborators.

The use of a hormone combination of “2,4-D + dicamba” together resulted in a significant increase (~30%) in winter wheat haploid embryo production. This improved hormone treatment has been adopted in Dr. Humphreys doubled haploid lab.

A new AAFC winter wheat breeding line, WW144, was evaluated in the Atlantic Winter Wheat Registration Trial. In 2017-18 test, WW144 ranked 4th out of 30 entries at Harrington in the Atlantic Winter Wheat Registration Trial. WW144 had an average yield across sites that was 1.44t/ha greater than check cultivar AC Sampson. WW144 had winter survival better than the Atlantic check cultivar AC Sampson and its mean test (77.7 kg/hl) exceeds the check mean. WW144 is in second year testing in 2018-19.

External Funding Partners:

This research activity was part of the National Wheat Improvement Program Cluster led by the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF).

Funding for this project was provided in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) AgriInnovation Program and in part by Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA) members. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Related Publications: