BGRI Technical Workshop 2013 Press Meet - Photo Coverage
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BGRI Technical Workshop 2013 Press Meet

South Asia's wheat scientists mobilized to fight stem rust — Norman Borlaug's old foe

Experts say that India has made excellent progress, but challenges remain in the vast wheat-growing regions of South Asia

HYDERABAD (08 MAY, 2013) — "We are significantly closer to our goal of protecting the global wheat crop from rust diseases," said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding, principal investigator, director of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project and vice-chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), speaking in Hyderabad this week.

"Much of the vast wheat-growing region that stretches across North Africa all the way to India and China - the world's two largest wheat-growing nations - is still vulnerable," said Coffman. "But India has made commendable progress in reducing the amount of farmland planted to susceptible varieties."

An estimated 85 percent of wheat in production, including most wheat grown in the Americas, Asia and Africa, is susceptible to Ug99 and its variants.

"Much of the world's wheat varieties are highly susceptible to stem rust," Coffman said, noting that stem rust can act like a "biological firestorm that can turn fields of wheat into blackened stubble with no grain almost overnight."

Coffman advocates preparedness and breeding resistance into wheat that is based on more than single resistance genes.

"India's wheat scientists have been remarkably diligent in getting farmers to reduce the amount of land that is planted to the highly susceptible mega variety PBW343," said Coffman. In the last five years, the number of hectares of PBW343 has shrunk from more than half to a quarter of the acreage of wheat cultivated, "and they are more and more successful in getting new varieties into the farmers' hands," he said.

"Until the BGRI, my friends and I did not know about stem rust," said Gurjeet Mann, a wheat farmer from Sirsa, India. "Now I am worried about it." In the current growing season, Mann who has 35 hectares of wheat, planted resistant varieties recommended by the Directorate of Wheat Research-Karnal, Punjab Agricultural University and other reliable agencies. In particular, he planted DPW/ PBW621-50, PBW502, PBW509, PBW550, HD 2967, and Super 152 and Super 172
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