Although the number of winter wheat acres has fluctuated throughout the years, there has been an overall gradual increase from 60,000 acres in 1999 to 245,000 acres in 2004 and now 530,000 acres estimated for this year, but it still only accounts for less than 10 percent of the total wheat acres planted in the state.
Two groups have teamed up to encourage even more acres be devoted for the sake of waterfowl, the environment and farmers' pocketbooks.
Ducks Unlimited, the world's largest wetland and waterfowl conservation organization, and Bayer CropScience, a crop science company involved in the areas of crop production, pest control, seeds and plant biotechnology, have teamed up to launch "Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action," a program that will focus on the education and promotion of planting winter wheat using agronomic research, including a plant breeding program and providing producers with support and incentives.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN --
Blake Vander Vorst, regional agronomist for Ducks Unlimited, and Geoff Kneen, vice president of special projects for Bayer CropScience, stand in front of the winter wheat program informational booth at the Ag Expo Thursday morning.
Bayer CropScience is contributing $20 million $10 million to the U.S.-based program and $10 million to the Canadian-based program over the next five years to the program, which will focus on the Prairie Pothole Region where a majority of the mallards, northern pintails, blue-winged teal and gadwalls the primary species of upland nesting waterfowl are found in the state. The winter wheat focus is based off previous research that found winter wheat nesting produces 35 times more ducks than spring wheat.
"The trick is to make the producer profitable," said Geoff Kneen, vice president of special projects for Bayer CropScience." Aside from all of the soil, water and wildlife benefits, producers overall need to see a return on their investments."
To address this, the first phase of the program will involve the hiring of three additional agronomists to assist in education and promotion of the program as well as to assist producers with production issues right on their own land, an effort to increase production and profitability.
Scheduled for 2010, the second phase of the program will shift the focus to biological research and the search for waterfowl nesting areas. Once the air, soil, water and other agricultural aspects are evaluated and a clearer picture of sustainability can be quantified, the breeding program will become the central focus, said Blake Vander Vorst, regional agronomist for Ducks Unlimited.
The winter wheat breeding program, "is the biggest missing link to finding better varieties that not only address the cold, but also disease, quality and drought issues," Kneen said, adding that the research done through the program will benefit farmers outside North Dakota.
"I'm very excited about the project. It gives us credibility as a sustainable agricultural company," he said. "It's the fruitful co-existence of profitable agriculture and environmental conservation."
Vander Vorst said the program "shows that we (Ducks Unlimited) are compatible with industry objectives as well, so I'm anxious to get to work."