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 January 22, 1999 Volume 6, Number 9

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Ducks Unlimited bankrolls ecological agriculture chair

Dr. Brian Fowler. Research to benefit both farmers and waterfowl.

Research into new winter wheat varieties and environmentally friendly farming practices will get a boost, thanks to the creation of a new research chair in ecological agriculture at the U of S.

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) announced last week that it will provide $500,000 over five years to establish the Eco-Agriculture Enhancement Chair.

The Chair will expand the Crop Development Centre's research into improved winter wheat varieties and sustainable, conservation-based farming.

"We're very pleased that Ducks Unlimited has made this money available," says Dr. Brian Fowler, senior research scientist with the CDC and holder of the new Chair. "It will enable us to do research in areas that will advance opportunities for production of winter wheat, which is an environmentally friendly crop with profit potential for farmers."

Fowler, recognized internationally as the leading expert on winter wheat, will lead a research team in the Department of Plant Sciences that will work with DUC to develop varieties that are more winter hardy and contribute to DUC's promotion of winter cereals to farmers.

Valuable wildlife habitat

According to Ducks Unlimited, winter cereals have proven to provide valuable wildlife habitat.

"Winter cereal crops supplement wildlife habitat and provide valuable nesting cover to waterfowl and other ground nesting birds," says Don Young, DUC's executive vice-president.

Ducks Unlimited will provide $100,000 a year through to 2003 for the new Chair.

Programs implemented by the Chair will target farmers in the Northern Great Plains region that includes North Dakota, Montana, and the prairie provinces.

DUC's money builds on existing financial support for Fowler's work from both the Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund and the Western Grains Research Foundation.

This is the first time DUC has funded a chair in agricultural research at a Canadian university. Young says the Chair position contributes to the organization's goal of expanding the acreage of winter cereals in western Canada.

"When fields are planted with winter cereals in the fall, they're seeded directly into the standing stubble from the spring crop. The stubble helps to camouflage nesting birds, protecting them and their nests from predators. Unlike spring-seeded crops, winter cereal crops don't require spring tillage, so nests remain undisturbed by field equipment."

Moreover, fewer herbicides are used on winter cereals and they're often harvested prior to fall migration, so crop damage by waterfowl is reduced.

At present, only 200,000 acres of western Canada farm land is planted with winter wheat. Increasing this figure by two or three times, Fowler says, would help to establish markets for Canada's winter wheat crop.

His seed breeding program - which has already developed six new winter wheat varieties since 1991 - will work on developing winter-hardy, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant and higher-yielding winter wheat varieties that will be profitable for growers.

"We already know that winter wheat is important from a conservation standpoint. Now we have to make it more viable for farmers in terms of yield and profit."

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