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Winter Triticale: The Developing Potential

V.W. Poysa, Department of Crop Science, Ontario Agricultural College

The term triticale comes from the contraction of the two Latin words for wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale). Triticale, the first man-made cereal, is a self-pollinating plant resulting from crossing wheat with rye, which combines some of the superior qualities of each parent. In less than half a century triticale has been developed from a theoretical curiosity to a new, valuable cereal. Although substantial improvements are still required to produce improved strains with higher value and usability, the threshold has been passed and triticale is here to stay and provide diversity to Canadian agriculture.


The first fertile triticale was produced less than a century ago, in 1888 in Germany. However, one of the first major efforts to develop spring triticale as a commercial crop took place at the University of Manitoba, at Winnipeg, beginning in 1954, under the leadership of C.H. Shebeski and C.J. Jenkins. The location proved fortuitous indeed, as the First International Wheat Genetics Symposium was held in Winnipeg in 1958. The visiting scientists, particularly N.E. Borlaug (Nobel Peace Prize winner for his leadership in the "Green Revolution" at CIMMYT)*, saw the triticale plots and recognizing their yield potential, stimulated research in the new crop, including an extensive breeding program at CIMMYT. Extensive research on winter triticale in Canada was initiated in 1974 at the University of Guelph with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The University of Manitoba - ClMMYT program developed both spring and winter triticale material. However, the climate at CIMMYT was too mild for effective selection for winterhardy types. Conversely, essentially all materials would be killed by the severe Manitoba winter. The University of Guelph was found to be ideally located for making such studies and had the required growth room and field facilities. Although the stated objectives of the project were to develop triticale as a source of food for man in less developed countries, selection of breeding materials under Ontario winter conditions has provided the Guelph triticale program with agronomically superior winter triticale lines adapted to Ontario conditions. These lines far outyield the two licensed spring triticale lines in Astoria

Commercial Production

Reliable figures for the commercial production of triticale are difficult to obtain but the total area of world production is probably between 0.5 and 1 million hectares, with large areas of production in the U.S.A., U.S.S.R., and Hungary. In Canada about 5,000 ha of triticale is grown, mainly with spring lines in Manitoba. A very small amount of winter triticale is grown in Ontario for on-farm feed and for health food outlets. This should increase as winter triticale lines become licensed. OAC WlNTRI, developed by OAC, this year became the first winter triticale licensed in Canada. Although the major initial use of winter triticale would be as an on-farm feed source, due to lack of quality standards and international markets, markets for triticale flour are slowly being developed. Christie's has developed triticale crackers in Ontario and the Safeway food chain has merchandised a triticale bread in western Canada.

Potential Yield and Quality

Recent data from the IDRC-sponsored winter triticale project at Guelph indicate that winter triticale lines have been developed with improved yielding capacity and winter survival ability under Ontario conditions, compared to current soft white winter wheats (Table 1). On a three year average, OAC Wintri winter triticale yielded more than Fredrick wheat in each of the three winter cereal growing areas of Ontario, with the difference being greatest in Area 2 (Flora).

The superior winter survival of triticale, compared to recommended cultivars of winter wheat, is most pronounced under adverse conditions, such as with late fall planting and a cool spring or with ice-encasement. It is expected that the winterhardiness of triticale can be significantly improved by synthesizing new triticales using some of the very hardiest wheat and rye lines from the world collections. This would facilitate the expansion of winter triticale cultivation into areas where winter wheat fails to give stable yields because of winterkill, particularly in northern and eastern Ontario. The improvement of the winter survival ability will be one of the major aspects of the Guelph triticale research.

In addition to the superior winterhardiness and yielding capacity, triticale can combine high total protein consent with high Iysine for protein of high biological value. While the level of the antimetabolite, trypsin inhibitor, can be a problem, the levels are much reduced compared to rye. Recent data on triticale lines with low trypsin inhibitor activity show that triticale can replace 100% of the grain added to swine diets without adversely affecting daily gain or grain/feed ratios, when compared to usual corn-soybean rations.

Moreover, the disease resistance of advanced lines of winter triticale is superior to that of current varieties of wheat and rye: resistance to powdery mildew and stem and leaf rust is excellent and, with improved fertility, ergot contamination has been practically eliminated.

Continued research efforts are needed to improve the winterhardiness, test weight (plump seed), height, yield, protein, and nutritional quality of triticale while maintaining its disease resistance, so that new cultivars for Ontario and Canadian farmers can be developed.

Table 1

Variety Yield t/ha


Elora Ottawa Mean Winter survival % mean
OAC Wintri triticale 5,32 5,21 4,21 5,00 85
Fredrick wheat 5,25 4,58 4,11 4,71 74

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