Research WGRF’s funding is all about benefitting western Canadian crop growers. Advancing Crop Research FARMER-FOCUSED. Research-focused. Multi-crop. Inter- provincial. Cross-cutting. Independent. Collaborative. Unique. That’s the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF). Building on more than 35 years of experience, this crop research funding agency is poised for the challenges ahead. “We are a farmer-funded and farmer-directed organization. Our focus is on funding research; we’re not involved in policy or advo- cacy or market development. We’re an independent organization, and we’re incorporated as a non-profit charity, which makes us unique in Western Canada,” says Garth Patterson, WGRF execu- tive director. “And our focus is interprovincial, looking at research that will benefit crop producers in Western Canada.” Since its inception in 1981, WGRF has invested over $148 mil- lion into crop research. It is probably best known for its invest- ment of wheat and barley check-offs into variety development. “Through that investment, over 200 new wheat and barley varieties have been released since 1995,” notes Patterson. “We fund public crop breeding institutions, and their varieties really dominate western Canadian acreage.” For instance, over 88 per cent of CWRS acres and 94 per cent of CWAD acres are seeded to WGRF-funded wheat varieties. In addition, WGRF supports research projects on many field crops from its Endowment Fund. “We fund research into all crops – canola, wheat, pea, lentil, chickpea, dry bean, barley, corn, soy, canaryseed, flax, oats, even forages – you name it.” Collaboration is key to WGRF’s approach to project funding. “The benefits of research don’t stop at provincial borders, so we work with the organizations in Western Canada that are interested in crop research, including producer organizations, provincially based organizations and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC),” says Patterson. “Instead of running our own call for proposals, we consider the proposals that come in on their calls and look at ways to co-fund with them.” According to Patterson, WGRF looks for three key elements in a research proposal. One is the potential to benefit crop produc- 10 | Advancing Seed in Alberta ers in Western Canada. “That doesn’t mean we don’t invest in upstream research, but we want to have an understanding of how it might contribute in the end to profitability on the farm.” The other two elements are good science, and a strong likelihood that the researchers will accomplish the project’s objectives. The WGRF’s research committee consists of experts represent- ing various aspects of agriculture including: research, market development and agri-business; and WGRF board members. The research committee makes recommendations to the WGRF board of directors, which makes the final decisions on project funding. The board is composed of farmer representatives from each of the 18 member organizations, which include provincial, western Canadian and national farm organizations. A Look at WGRF’s Current Projects WGRF is currently funding (or has committed to fund) more than 235 research projects valued at $76.9M from all funds (Endow- ment, Wheat and Barley). The current projects cover an amazing array of topics such as: enhancing clubroot resistance in canola; improving faba bean, pea and alfalfa varieties; screening and managing Fusarium head blight in cereals; investigating novel ways to tackle herbicide resistance; managing pea leaf weevil in faba bean and field pea; and optimiz- ing fertilizer management in flax. Most projects are co-funded with other agencies, enhancing the impact of WGRF dollars. AAFC research scientist Neil Harker is leading a project on herbicide resistance. “Weed resistance to herbicides is increas- ing rapidly and jeopardizes important herbicide tools,” he says. “Cropping systems that effectively manage weeds with less herbi- cide applications are urgently required to decrease the selection for more herbicide resistance, and to provide management tools in the face of new resistance issues.” This project involves developing integrated weed management (IWM) strategies that reduce selection pressure for herbicide resistance. Harker explains: “In this project, we combine chaff The farmer-directed WGRF board tours field plots in Lacombe in 2016. Photo courtesy WGRF