Set for Aug. 11 through Aug. 12 in Olive Branch, Miss., the 25th annual meeting of the Mid-South Association of Wheat Scientists (MAWS) will cover a long list of important topics. Producers are welcome to attend.

Scheduled to join a host of Mid-South-based researchers are Dave Van Sanford and Daren Coppock.

Van Sanford “is the co-chair of the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative,” says Gene Milus, University of Arkansas wheat pathologist and MAWS chairman. “He’ll be updating everyone on what the initiative has accomplished and what’s left to do as far as solving the scab problem.”

The initiative, now in its 11th year of funding, oversees the distribution of $5.5 million for research funding annually on fusarium head blight.

“Progress has been made on several fronts but the problem hasn’t been fully solved,” says Milus.

Daren Coppock, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, will address the conference on the adoption of genetically engineered wheat.

“Three years ago, all the groups involved with wheat voted to not support genetic engineering in the crop,” says Milus. “All the companies gave up working on GE wheat.

“At the time, the biggest fear was, for instance, if the United States decided to go biotech alone, then other countries would say, ‘Don’t buy U.S. wheat. Even if you think you’re buying non-GMO wheat it’s probably all mixed up. If you really want non-GMO wheat, you need to buy from us.’”

That position has since been reassessed. One of the reasons given for declining wheat acreage is that the crop isn’t as competitive as soybeans and corn that contain genetically-engineered traits.

“Now, the groups are strongly in favor of GE wheat. This is a big step for the future. (Coppock) will update us on how wheat will proceed to becoming a GE crop. My understanding is this will be a joint effort amongst Americans, Canadians and Australians.”

It was “an important step to get all three nations moving forward together on this, to have a unified front and not fight each other. Whether or not GMO wheat will be sufficient to make wheat competitive with soybeans and corn right away is an unknown. But at least the impediment is being removed and the playing field will be leveled out a bit more. Wheat will at least have the opportunity to benefit from some of these genetically engineered traits.”

The big question for Milus: what traits will be put into wheat?

“It will be interesting to see if research that was put on the backburner after the ‘no GE wheat’ vote is restarted. For instance, Syngenta apparently stopped some research on GE lines that are resistant to head blight or scab. Other companies stopped work on transgenic wheat, as well.”

Among other topics to be covered at the meeting: grain storage bags, weed management, fungicide responses, no-till wheat, effects of row spacing, and Hessian fly infestations.

A block of rooms is being held for the meeting at the Whispering Woods Conference Center. Rooms are $89 for either one or two people. Call (662) 890-2886 to make a reservation. For more information, visit http://www.wwconferencecenter.com/.

A registration fee (cash or checks only) will be charged at the door to cover the costs of the meeting and the social, and the amount will depend on the level of industry sponsorship.

For more information, contact Milus at (479) 575-2676 or gmilus@uark.edu.