The Race Against Time To Breed a Wheat To Survive the Climate Crisis
12 June 2022
A dozen or so farm workers perched on wooden stools carefully emasculate wheat spikes using nail scissors and tweezers – the first step in a years-long breeding process to develop climate-resilient varieties.
It’s late afternoon, and the farmhands are shaded by wide-brimmed sun hats as they work in an experimental wheat field in northern Mexico, preparing the wheat flowers to be cross-pollinated in a couple of days. For each pollination, both wheat parents have been selected by crop scientists for desirable traits such as fungus resistance, photosynthesis efficiency, and yield.
It’s a quiet scene, but the stakes increase every year as concerns grow that our food system is not ready for the climate crisis.
Scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Sonora are focused on developing wheat varieties which can better cope with drought, rising temperatures and excessive rainfall. In other words, wheat that can thrive under the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions farmers are experiencing globally due to the rapidly warming planet.