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Cornell to host virtual global wheat conference in October

As the world grapples with a deadly human health crisis, scientists will gather virtually this fall to discuss strategies to safeguard the health of one of the planet’s most important food sources – wheat.

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative’s (BGRI) virtual technical workshop, Oct. 7-9, will bring together scientists at the forefront of wheat science for cutting-edge training and knowledge sharing. Event registration is now open.

The BGRI 2020 Technical Workshop was scheduled for June 1-4 in Norwich, United Kingdom, but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts from Cornell, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, and the John Innes Centre, with presenters from Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Australia, Finland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States, will lead in-depth talks and discussions on the most pressing challenges facing global wheat security.

“Right now we are witnessing the devastation that the global spread of disease can cause, and it underscores the continual threat that diseases pose to our most important food crops,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI and an international professor in Cornell’s Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science.

“Devastating wheat epidemics would be catastrophic to human health and well-being,” he said. “October’s workshop is an opportunity for wheat scientists to converge virtually for the practical training and knowledge-sharing we need to fight numerous challenges.”

The workshop will be broken up into sessions with keynotes from leading experts, and presentations focused on key areas of wheat research:

  • breeding technologies;
  • disease surveillance;
  • molecular host-pathogen interaction;
  • disease resistance; and
  • gene stewardship.

 “The BGRI has been at the forefront of developing the next generation of ‘wheat warriors,’ especially in strengthening the technical and professional skills of women and men scientists from developing countries,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and researcher in Cornell’s Department of Global Development.

“We are taking a global approach to help reduce the threat of diseases that can overwhelm farmers’ wheat fields,” she said. “Issues related to improving world food security, especially in the face of climate change, can only be addressed by a diverse and united global community.”

Annual global production of wheat exceeds 700 million tons, grown on more than 215 million hectares. Eaten by 2.5 billion people in 89 countries, wheat provides 19% of the world’s total available calories and 20% of all protein.

Over the past 20 years, the global area under wheat production has not increased. To produce the required amount of wheat needed to feed the world’s growing population, researchers predict wheat yields must increase at least 1.4% per year through 2030.

Based in the Department of Global Development, the BGRI receives funding through the DGGW project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK aid, an initiative from the British government.

Matt Hayes is associate director for communications for Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Media Contact

Lindsey Hadlock