Innovating the growth of lentils
Lentils may be tiny, but they are an outsized source of opportunity for Canadian farmers. Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of lentils, exporting more than $14 billion worth of lentils since 1997. Lentils are eaten around the world, easy-to-cook, and high in protein and micronutrients, thus contributing to global food security.
Lentils have been a success for Canada, because farmers have access to high-quality and high-yielding lentil varieties that are well-adapted to Canada’s climate conditions – a result of a dedicated lentil breeding program in Canada. Breeders, however, have only been able to access a small fraction of the total diversity in existence, which hinders Canadian farmers’ ability to meet the growing global demand.
The goal of AGILE is to provide Canadian farmers with faster access to better lentil varieties that will excel under Canadian growing conditions. The AGILE team will characterize the genetic variability found in an expansive collection of lentils to determine the genetics underlying the ability for lentils to grow well in different global environments. The team, led by Drs. Kirstin Bett and Albert Vandenberg of the University of Saskatchewan, will then develop breeder-friendly genetic markers that can be used to reduce the impact of genes that cause poor adaptation to Canadian conditions while retaining advantageous genes from these strains. The team will also investigate the factors that influence farmer’s decisions to adopt lentil or not in their crop rotation, and develop a strategy to increase Canadian lentil production in a sustainable way.
Output from AGILE is expected to result in a three per cent annual rate of increase in productivity, leading to a $550 million increase in export revenues, thus ensuring Canada’s continued dominance in research, production and marketing of this important crop.