ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, U.S. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) broke ground on a greenhouse that will play a key role in helping scientists combat a growing global disease threat to the world's wheat and barley supplies. The 2,880-square-foot greenhouse will be operated by scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which is the USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

“Historically, stem rust has been the most destructive disease of wheat and barley, but in recent decades, scientists have been able to breed resistance to this disease into new varieties of wheat,” said Edward B. Knipling, an administrator with the ARS. “Since 1999, the world has faced a new and unprecedented threat from a stem rust called Ug99. More than 80% of our global wheat crop is vulnerable to Ug99. This new greenhouse puts another U.S. research facility on the front lines to battle Ug99 and help secure global food security.”

According to the USDA, the greenhouse will increase controlled growing space at ARS’s Cereal Disease Laboratory on the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul, and boost the laboratory’s analytic capacity five-fold.

Facility construction is being funded through a $4.5 million cooperative agreement between USAID and the USDA through Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Feed the Future is a presidential initiative to improve agricultural productivity, promote market development, facilitate trade expansion, invest in global innovation and research, promote equitable rural economic growth, and address child malnutrition in 20 food-insecure countries.

“By expanding our commitment to research that targets crop diseases like Ug99, we can strengthen food security and reduce hunger and poverty in countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Pakistan,” said Robert Bertram, head of USAID’s Office of Agriculture, Research and Technology. “This research concurrently helps U.S. scientists protect America's wheat crops.”

The ARS is coordinating the evaluation of wheat lines from U.S. wheat breeders — both public and private — for resistance to Ug99 in Africa. Since 2005, more than 14,000 lines from 28 universities, 11 companies and eight ARS laboratories have been tested in Kenya. These efforts link closely with USAID’s support of international wheat research programs that develop resistant varieties of wheat adapted to the needs of farmers in at-risk regions such as East Africa and South Asia.

Additionally, the ARS is distributing wheat breeding lines, which have already proven their ability to stand up to Ug99 in cooperative test nurseries in Kenya and Ethiopia, to wheat breeders and geneticists in 34 countries around the world.