Inconsistent funding for research into the pests and diseases that threaten key crops leaves global food supplies vulnerable, according to a University of Minnesota-led report published in the journal Nature Plants.
For example, while recent attention has focused on the deadly stem rust disease Ug99, a new study led by Jason Beddow, a University of Minnesota applied economist, shows that a potentially greater threat to the world's wheat may come from stripe rust. Stripe rust is a disease that was once a problem limited to cooler, wetter regions, but that has more recently been moving into warmer, drier regions. Prior to 2000, stripe rust outbreaks were reported in just 11 of the 48 contiguous United States. Since 2000, it has been reported in 26 states. The report further shows that stripe rust now threatens as much as 88 percent of the world's wheat.
"Keeping up with ever-changing agricultural pests and diseases requires consistent attention and proactive research strategies," Beddow says. "Waiting for new threats to emerge to start up the research and development pipelines could be a costly gamble."
Research that helps create high-yielding, disease- and pest-resistant agricultural crops pays off by increasing what the paper's authors refer to as "biological capital." Beddow and his co-authors note that the changes in where stripe rust occurs have caused this biological capital to depreciate, and that this depreciation has been exacerbated by inconsistent funding for research into the disease.
The new report will be discussed next week in Sydney, Australia at the International Wheat Congress, a gathering of the world's top wheat scientists. The meetings address the growing need for more food around the world as well as threats to the world's wheat crop, which provides about 20 percent of calories and protein to the global human diet.
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