The problem: Food security is becoming a critical issue both in the UK and worldwide due to rapid population expansion, dietary changes and declining stocks of fossil fuels. Total wheat grain production over the next 50 years must exceed that previously produced over the last 10,000 years, since agriculture began. The UK's current food and farming ecological footprint is up to six times the food growing area of the UK. It is no longer feasible for the UK to rely on wealth created from its service sector to buy a decreasing supply of grain on the open market. The US are planning to double maize yields by 2030 using 30% less land, water and energy through the deployment of biotechnology. The UK needs a similar vision for food production covering its major crops, such as wheat, to address the potential market failure created by the fact that commercial plant breeding generates insufficient returns to justify the level of investment which addressing these critical targets will require.
Solution: Preventing this market failure will require a unified approach by academic institutions to develop a wheat pre-breeding programme to enhance and underpin the successful UK private breeding sector. This need is endorsed in the second key recommendation by the Royal Society's report "Reaping the benefits" 2009 on addressing Food security which recommended funding for the UK public sector to undertake pre-breeding in wheat. The objective of the proposed programme is the development of pre-breeding germplasm, characterised for key traits, and the identification of genic markers for selecting these traits, for use both in commercial breeding programmes and for academic research.