Michael Richard Kerns

Researchers Get to Harvest Too!

On a warm summer’s day, I love to see the sight of weigh wagons, full to the brim of wheat grain, trundling down the roads in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. To watch a combine harvester unloading, hearing the grain falling into the wagon often stops me in my tracks. Knowing the work that has gone into that harvest for the grower; it is a real pleasure to stop and appreciate what looks like a potentially good wheat harvest.

I have been working in wheat genetics since 2015 and to know that wheat is one of the world’s most important crops is really motivating. We know that to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050, global food production needs to increase by 70%! Yet at the same time we need to find better ways to preserve our planet’s scarce resources, including arable land and water, in short we need to do more with less.

Today wheat is the most widely grown crop globally with over 220 million hectares under production in the 2015 and 2016 growing season, with yields second only to corn (maize). However, to meet estimated demand based on world population projections, wheat yields will have to grow faster than today’s level of about 0.9% per year while maintaining the local quality standards such as panification for bread flour or for my favorite wheat beer!

Currently, wheat is primarily grown as a self-pollinated, cultured variety, often bred locally to a region. The result is very local seed varieties that don’t necessarily travel very well to different regions let alone different countries. To better maximize value per hectare for the grower and meet future consumer demands globally, the global wheat team would like to give a passport to wheat by offering growers worldwide a different portfolio of products available locally. The future aim is to launch commercial hybrid wheat varieties that are produced sustainably, provide a broad range of beneficial traits, and are higher yielding and stable across growing environments.

My favorite time of the year is just before and just after wheat flowering. That is when the research activities and note-taking for wheat breeding are at their peak. You could say this period is “Research harvest” time, when the information gleaned from the fields keeps us going for the rest of the year: data analyses, interpretations, selection, and planning for the next season. As a wheat geneticist, I love having a really tough problem to solve. The simple traits are fine, however the really complex, quantitative problems are a real challenge – like resolving several huge and very complicated puzzles simultaneously. It takes the collaborative work with breeders, analyzing the germplasm together with marker labs and applying new technologies to make progress. It’s a very creative field and it becomes very tangible every time you have a wheat beer with friends or look at a variety of bread on sale at the local bakery.

Michael Richard Kerns

As a wheat geneticist, I love having a really tough problem to solve. It takes the collaborative work with breeders, analyzing the germplasm together with marker labs and applying new technologies to make progress. It’s a very creative field.

Michael Richard Kerns, Geneticist, Breeding & Trait Development at Bayer
Today wheat is the most widely grown crop globally with over 220 million hectares under production in the 2015 and 2016 growing season, with yields second only to corn (maize).

From April 24th to the 27th, Bayer breeders and researchers will take part in the International Wheat Genetics Symposium in Tulln, Austria.

wheat symposium
wheat symposium

As part of this global community of wheat, our colleagues from Bayer will reaffirm old connections and make new relationships to add to their networks. They will see new research being done and evaluate how to leverage the wheat community’s creative spirit to enhance our own Bayer innovative culture. With this collaborative spirit, our wheat breeders and researchers, together with Bayer’s internal Digital Farming and Crop Protection colleagues, strive to put the best package of hybrids, information and protection into the growers’ hands providing the best from a researcher’s harvest and definitely separating the hybrid wheat from the chaff!

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