Scab Initiative, Wheat Researchers Hold Meetings in St. Louis

December 8, 2011 Bookmark and Share

Two important wheat research organizations – the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI) and the National Wheat Improvement Committee – held their annual meetings this week in St. Louis.

The USWBSI meeting was the National Fusarium Head Blight Forum, which is held each year to allow scientists working on Fusarium head blight, commonly known as scab, to share their findings.

Meeting activities included a poster session and presentations about the progress being made on research to combat scab infection and DON, the mycotoxin scab causes.

Scientists and stakeholders in attendance were particularly excited about discussions relating to new techniques they are using for genomic selection for Fusarium head blight resistance.

There was also increased interest in producing and releasing scab-resistant varieties for the hard red winter wheat region. Fusarium head blight infections have not traditionally been a top concern for hard red winter areas, but are increasingly an annual problem.

The USWBSI meetings were followed by the first meeting of the newly-restructured National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC).

NWIC recently reorganized to include an executive committee and regional representatives from each wheat region and class, as well as ex officio members and formal subcommittees. Grower representatives attending the NWIC meeting included Mike Miller from Washington, Jody Bellah from Texas and Bob Wisness from North Dakota.

NWIC members heard reports from the group’s four regional chairs focusing on state budget shortfalls and the net loss of researcher positions facing most state and federal programs. Many members from around the country expressed particular concern about the loss of funding for the Wheat Genetic and Genomic Resources Center at Kansas State University.

Dave Marshall, the acting national program leader for grain crops at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), gave the group an update on ARS’ budget situation. He told NWIC members about the dramatic implications the budget cuts will have to ARS staffing, including a continued hiring freeze that makes it impossible to bring in new or needed researchers. ARS has taken deep cuts in recent years and, based on its FY2012 budget allocation, will be closing nine locations and one program entirely.

Despite these very real concerns, NWIC members also had positive discussions about the renewed interest in wheat research in recent years. Six private companies sent representatives to the meeting to give updates on their work. And, NWIC members began planning for the group’s annual fly-in to educate federal stakeholders about the importance of wheat research.

NAWG Director of Government Affairs for Research and Technology Jane DeMarchi attended both meetings. DeMarchi is the secretariat for NWIC and a member of the USWBSI steering committee.

Art Brandli, a wheat farmer from Minnesota, and Dr. Dave Van Sanford, the wheat breeder at the University of Kentucky, are the co-chairs of the USWBSI. More about the USWBSI is available at

An organizational chart for the new NWIC structure is at under “Related Resources”.