Montana State Gets $500,000 For New Sawfly Probe

Researchers will take genetic approach to resistance.

Published on: Oct 23, 2013

Growers already know if their wheat has a solid stem that the boring abilities of the dread wheat stem sawflies are avoided, but now they want new varieties with better resistance to the costly pest.

Answers to their quest may come from Montana State University, site of a new $500,000 grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to look for resistant genes that fan be incorporated into future varieties.

The new allocation will allow MSU wheat breeder Luther Talbert with funding to screen thousands of wheat varieties from all over the world for resistance. If they find resistance, they'll try to breed it into new commercial wheats that could be resistant to the pest.

A wheat stem sawfly about to lay eggs on a wheat plant is not an uncommon sight in Montana fields.
A wheat stem sawfly about to lay eggs on a wheat plant is not an uncommon sight in Montana fields.

"I'm very excited," he says. "I have wanted to do this for several years. It's good that the USDA will give us the opportunity to do this. It's good that our colleagues in the wheat breeding community are willing to help."

It is fitting that the fund went to MSU, which some consider a global epicenter of infestation. "It's a bigger deal for us than most people," says Talbert.

The damage done by sawflies is insidious, says MSU entomologist David Weaver, who will work on the research team. Growers cannot see how much of the crop potential has been robbed by the feeding, he explains.

He estimates that Montana wheat growers pay up to $100 million a year in sawfly losses, easily rendering it to be the No. 1 wheat pest in the state. Overall losses to the pest on the Northern Great Plains of the U.S. are put at $350 million a year, he notes.

MSU agronomist Peggy Lamb says that any steps that lead to better understanding of how new wheats could fight sawfly would be "huge."

"Funding from this grant will definitely bolster the wheat stem sawfly resistance research," she believes.

Thanks to MSU News Service's Evelyn Boswell for information in this Western Farmer-Stockman article.