FCDC’s First Growing Season with Olds College

The Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) at Olds College was in full swing for the 2021 planting and growing season. FCDC — located in Lacombe, Alberta — breeds new varieties of malting barley, feed and forage barley, and spring and winter triticale supported by pathology, quality, and biotechnology labs.

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FCDC’s First Growing Season with Olds College

The Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) at Olds College was in full swing for the 2021 planting and growing season. FCDC — located in Lacombe, Alberta — breeds new varieties of malting barley, feed and forage barley, and spring and winter triticale supported by pathology, quality, and biotechnology labs.

FCDC plots located in Lacombe, Alberta.

The hot and dry growing conditions were a challenge across Alberta this year, and Lacombe was no exception. Along with the plant stress and yield decreases seen across much of the province, another unique challenge arose at FCDC — the extreme heat hit during FCDC’s crossing season at the end of June and beginning of July. Crossing is the first step in creating a new variety where pollen from a male parent plant is dusted onto the stigma of the female parent plant. Watch this recent video of the FCDC crossing process for a detailed explanation. Temperatures around 35°C during this delicate procedure meant that in some cases, FCDC staff had only a matter of hours to use pollen on a receptive plant before the plant matured in the heat making pollination less effective. Through a massive team effort, FCDC staff were able to complete most of the intended 400 barley and triticale crosses.

Over the next four to five years, these 400 crosses will segregate into nearly 28,000 barley and triticale breeding lines — each with different disease resistance, end use quality and agronomic traits. FCDC scientists and technicians then whittle the lines down over another four or five years to only a handful of the best lines that will be registered and released as varieties.

Touring FCDC plots and varieties during Lacombe Field Day in July 2021.

Growing out and evaluating this amount of material requires a large amount of land, and FCDC has approximately 730 acres in rotation across four central Alberta locations. FCDC grew 40,000 plots, rows, and hills of barley and triticale material in the 2021 summer growing season at Lacombe. FCDC also ran another 3,000 plots at Olds College campus, 2,300 plots near Trochu, and 1,000 plots near Morrin.

Harvesting FCDC plots on Olds College campus in August 2021.

The majority of these plots are for the purpose of evaluating and purifying FCDC’s barley and triticale breeding material; however, FCDC also collaborates with other breeding groups across Canada and the world in a mutually beneficial plot exchange. Breeding material from these organizations is grown out and evaluated by FCDC, and in exchange, FCDC material is grown out and evaluated locally by the collaborating groups. This allows all groups involved to assess how their respective breeding material performs under different environments.

In addition, FCDC also grows out and evaluates western Canadian Cooperative pre-registration variety trials for malting, feed/forage, and hulless barley, as well as spring and winter triticale, winter wheat, and fall rye. These Coop trials contain potential varieties from other institutions grown alongside FCDC’s material allowing for direct comparison under the same conditions.

FCDC collaborates with breeding groups around the world to both test their material and share new genetics. This year, 250 barley varieties and breeding lines from organizations in six countries were grown in Lacombe for initial evaluation under Albertan conditions. This material has been added to the FCDC seed bank with promising varieties marked for use as parents in future crosses.  

Since transitioning to Olds College from the ministry of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry in January 2021, FCDC has been evaluating opportunities and challenges to best position itself for future success. Read the recently released Strategic Plan for FCDC intended to guide FCDC’s research for the next five years.