From a single seed Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine
- Rediscovery of Halychanka (Red Fife) Wheat
When Saunders's hopes for the Ladoga had been dashed, there was nothing to do but go back to the Red Fife (Halychanka) and develop a plan to cross it with other wheats to develop new varieties that met the requirements of the Canadian climate.
This renewed interest in the old Red Fife variety occurred by sheer chance: a European merchant had sent Saunders a sample of Galician (Halychanka) wheat. Thus 63 years after its initial arrival and discovery by David Fife in 1842, it was "rediscovered." Saunders made the announcement in 1905 when he appeared before the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture and Colonization in Parliament, after reading George Essen's letter:
"This account has given rise to the idea that Red Fife is a Canadian wheat, that it originated with Mr. Fife in some wholly unaccountable manner or as a sport [sic] from a European variety. It always seemed to me probable that the kernel which Mr. Fife obtained was merely a seed of some common European variety which had found its way into the wheat from Danzig." (7, p. 208)
"Last season, among our newly-imported European varieties, was one under the name of 'Galician,' obtained from a seedsman in Germany. (This variety is registered at the Cereal Division, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa under No. C.I. No. 2463 [573 OT. 216 - 217]). Now, Galicia lies about 300 miles inland from Danzig. This imported Galician wheat struck me at once as being very much like Red Fife, and I therefore sowed it last spring alongside Red Fife, and watched them both very carefully throughout the season. They proved to be identical at all stages of their growth as well as when the grain was harvested. A larger plot of Galician wheat furnished grain for milling purposes. This was ground, analyzed and baked. Red Fife from a plot in the same field was similarly treated. The two samples of flour were found to be alike in all respects, and thus the absolute identity of the two wheats was established. The firm from which the seed of the Galician wheat was obtained, informed me that the variety was procured by them many years ago from a farmer in Galicia. It seems, therefore, quite clear that the kernel of wheat which came into the hands of Mr. Fife, was a kernel of this Galician spring wheat, accidentally present in the cargo of winter wheat from Danzig, of which he obtained a portion. It is interesting to be able to throw this light on the subject of the origin of Red Fife, which has hitherto seemed very dark. There is no doubt that this variety is still grown in Europe, and so far as our tests have gone, it seems to be of the same quality there as it is here."
"It therefore seems certain: that Red Fife was originally grown in mid-Europe; that one of its kernels was conveyed in a cargo of winter wheat, via the Baltic and the North Sea, from Danzig to Glasgow; that a sample cargo containing the kernel in question was procured by some one at the Scottish port; that this sample was sent to David Fife at his farm in Ontario about the year 1842; that this single kernel germinated and produced a plant with three heads; that the kernels of these three heads, when sown the next year, gave rise to the wheat which became known as Red Fife; and that Red Fife is identical with a wheat known as Galician which was recently in cultivation in Galicia." (7, pp. 209-210)
This historic Canadian document reveals the true origin of Halychanka wheat. Another is an American document in Washington : "Red Fife grows under registration numbers 3329 and 3694. Although a lot of wheat samples were recently imported from Russia, only one of them contains real Red Fife. This sample (S.I.N-2463) came from Halychyna, which is somewhere in eastern Germany or western Russia." (10, p. 11)
After his tour of Western Canada, Saunders knew that new wheat varieties for the Canadian climate could be developed only through scientific crossing methods. Desirable hereditary properties of individual varieties had to be selected from the progeny of parents with the required genes.
The first crossings were carried out at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa on 19 July 1888. William Saunders, his sons A.P. and Charles, and their assistants W.T. Macoun and J.L. McMurray carried out hundreds of crossings, always with one of the descendants of the Halychanka (Red Fife) variety. (7, p. 148) The results were published in the Experimental Farm annual reports.
In 1892, A.P. Saunders was sent to Western Canada to conduct crossing experiments at the experimental farms in Brandon (Manitoba), Indian Head (Saskatchewan), and Agassiz (British Columbia). All the grain obtained from these crossings was sent to Ottawa where the chief researcher made a selection from the next generations. By 1901, 58 new hybrids with the required characteristics had been selected and could become new varieties after further work. Some were sent to farmers in the West for further research in order to establish their practical value. Four hybrids turned out to be valuable enough to be used as commercial new varieties. They were:
- PRESTON + STANLEY, obtained from a cross of RED FIFE + LADOGA, and
- HURON + PERCY, obtained from a cross of WHITE FIFE + LADOGA. (7, p. 149)
These four crossings were carried out at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. The first two were done by William, the other two by A.P. Saunders. These four wheats ripened a few days earlier than Red Fife but had some shortcomings, mostly in their milling and baking qualities. This made them unsuitable for export so they did not become popular. Preston, sometimes under a different name, was grown in the great central area of spring-wheat cultivation in the United States. (8, p. 150) White Fife is the result of a selection originating from the Halychanka (Red Fife) variety produced at the Central Experimental Farm. (11, p. 50) Its only difference from Red Fife is that its grain is white.
In 1903, grain research was headed by Charles Saunders, who established his headquarters at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa and carried out a review of a great number of selections there.
In 1904, he discovered a new variety called Marquis. It was a cross between the early-ripening Indian wheat Hard Red Calcutta and Red Fife made by his brother A.P. in 1892 at the Experimental Farm in Agassiz, British Columbia.
Hard Red Calcutta is a commercial name for a peculiar variety of wheat which is in fact a mixture of several varieties. So there is some doubt that this was the very type used as the maternal ancestor in this crossing. Several generations of crossings had resulted in a mixture of types, including Marquis. Studying spike after spike systematically for years, Charles Saunders had to make a judgement call on the quality of each wheat variety. During the winter of 1903-1904 he did not have a proper laboratory, a mill for grinding wheat, or an oven for baking bread. However, he would take a few grains from each stalk, chew them and decide on their probable flour and bread quality on the basis of the dough created in his mouth. The individual ancestors of the Marquis variety were produced between 1904 and 1906. In the winter of 1906-1907 the laboratory, which by now had equipment for flour milling and bread making, fully confirmed his original assessments, when teeth substituted for a mill and a mouth for an oven. (7, pp. 155-156)
In 1907, 23 pounds of Marquis grain were sent from Ottawa to the Indian Head Experimental Farm for a full-scale field trial. In 1908 the new grain was sent to the Experimental Farm in Brandon, Manitoba. In the spring of 1909 distribution of the new variety to the public began. Four hundred samples were sent to farmers throughout Western Canada. Marquis wheat was thus disseminated throughout Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. It also found its way to Kamloops, British Columbia, then crossed into the United States. It attracted attention in every wheat-growing country because of the surprisingly high quality of its grain and flour, its early ripening (several days earlier than Red Fife), high yield, and the fact that its straw does not lie flat. The introduction of Marquis was the greatest practical triumph of Canadian agriculture. (7, p. 157)
When some American farmers -- in North and South Dakota, Minnesota and neighbouring states -- sowed small amounts of this new Canadian variety, the first harvest established its reputation. It was in 1912 that North Dakota first imported several carloads of this wheat. When the first Marquis harvest came to the large Minneapolis mills, the millers immediately noticed its excellent milling and baking qualities. Other Northwestern States soon followed suit: for example, the Toddy Russel Miller Milling Company in Minneapolis ordered 100,000 bu of Marquis from the Angus Mackay Farm Seed Company of Indian Head, near Regina, in the fall of 1913.
To be sure that this large shipment would be of first-class purity, the company hired Professor H. L. Bolly, Seed Commissioner for North Dakota, to inspect the fields from which the seed was to come. In 1914 Canada expanded its Marquis exports to Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Washington. That year saw fully half a million acres of American wheat fields sown with Marquis, yielding an American harvest of seven million bu -- 3.36 million in Minnesota and the Dakotas alone. (7, pp. 158-160)
In the United States, Marquis wheat replaced, either wholly or in part, all spring varieties grown at that time and even some winter ones. It became popular in both the central and northwestern states. In 1918 American and Canadian farmers sowed Marquis on more than twenty million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan -- a range of more than 800 miles.
Marquis is classified as a wheat of the Red Fife group. It differs from Red Fife in that its straw is shorter and does not lie flat; therefore its glumes are shorter and its kernel is shorter and broader. It ripens 98 to 135 days after planting, depending on the geographical area, which is three to four days before most of the Red Fife varieties. It is not resistant to rust, but because it ripens earlier, it is ready for harvest before rust development and so can be said to avoid rust. Also, because it ripens faster, it can grow farther north than Red Fife. These properties were especially important for Canada's Prairie provinces. (7, pp. 171-172)
- James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway Company offered a gold cup worth US$1,000 for the best bushel of hard spring wheat grown in the Unites States. Sir Thomas Shaughnessy challenged Hill to open the competition to Canada and when he refused, offered another prize of US$1,000 in gold, on behalf of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, for the best bushel of hard spring wheat grown in North America. In 1911 the international competition was held under the auspices of the New York Land Show and was won by Seager Wheeler of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, with a bushel of Marquis wheat. In 1910 Wheeler had harvested a yield of 250 pounds from just five pounds of seed grain. The wheat was grown in a field measuring 15' × 115' or about 1/19 of an acre, likely a world record for spring wheat.
- A farmer named Holmes of Raymond, Alberta, won an award from the International Dry-Farming Congress for Marquis in 1912; Paul Garlach of Allan, Saskatchewan, won a similar award in 1913.
- Seager Wheeler won international awards in 1914 and 1915; also one for the Kitchener variety, selected by him from Marquis in 1916.
- Samuel Larcombe of Birtle, Manitoba, won an international award at the Twelfth International Soil Products Exhibition in 1917.
- Seager Wheeler won yet another international award at the Thirteenth International Soil Products Exphibition in Kansas City in 1918. He was introduced to the public as one of the best wheat growers on the continent.
The awards for Marquis and its derivatives show that this hybrid had improved on the genetic properties of its Ukrainian Halychanka ancestor. (7, p. 174)
Northern wheat fields, with their shorter growing season, could be sown only with fast-ripening varieties. One of the new early-ripening varieties developed by William Saunders was given the name Prelude, probably because he was a music lover. This variety ripens fully two weeks earlier than Marquis, so was intended for northern areas -- northern Saskatchewan, and northern and central Alberta. It reaches maturity even in Dawson City,Yukon. (7, pp. 183-184)
After Prelude, a new variety called Ruby was selected. It reached maturity even sooner -- about two and a half weeks earlier than Red Fife. The genealogical charts for the Marquis, Ruby, and Prelude varieties are set out below. (7, pp. 184-186)
If we review the characteristics of their ancestors and those of subsequent generations, the characteristics selected with the help of crossing become obvious:
- Hard Red Calcutta and Gehun, from India, early maturity;
- Poltavka (Onega) and Poltavka (Ladoga), Ukrainian wheats from Russia, early maturity; and
- Halychanka (Red Fife) and Halychanka (White Fife), from Ukraine, excellent milling and baking qualities. (7, pp. 186-187)
Hard Red Calcutta, the female parent of Marquis, was a wheat imported into Canada by William Saunders for research at the Experimental Farms. Samples were sent to farmers all across Canada. Twenty-eight were sent out in 1892: but even though it ripens two to three weeks before Red Fife, its small yield, tendency to shatter, very short straw, and other deficiencies caused it to fail as a commercial variety for Canadian conditions. (7, pp. 204-205)
In 1892 it was crossed with Red Fife in the hope of creating an early-ripening wheat with the quality of Red Fife. The generation after this crossing was diverse. No notes about the first generation (F1) survive, although there are some on the first generation of the Marquis hybrid in Buller. (7, p. 205) Nor is there a single analysis of subsequent generations (F1, F2, F3, etc.). We do not know the generation in which the selection began: there was a mixture of varieties and characteristics. The type of Indian wheat used for crossing is also unknown. As Calcutta Red was a mixture of both red and white grains, the colour of the maternal ancestor is similarly unknown.
Finding the lost notes on the analysis of selection of the Marquis variety would be of great interest to growers and geneticists today. It became a very important food product that powered the agricultural economy of both Canada and the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.
|Year||Total crop of wheat in the three Prairie provinces in bu||% of Marquis||Amount of Marquis in bu||Price/bu (US$)||Crop value of Marquis (US$)|
Source: Buller (7, p. 243)
If the Ontario and Quebec harvests are added to those of the three Prairie provinces, the value of the Marquis harvest rises to $340 million and $260 million for 1917 and 1918 respectively.
|Total crop of wheat in bu||% of Marquis||Amount of Marquis in bu||Price/bu (US$)||Crop value of Marquis (US$)|
Source: Buller (7, p. 243)
If the Marquis harvest in other American states is added to these four, its monetary value in 1917 comes to $170 million. (7, p. 244)
The spring wheat crop for 1918 was expected to total 342,855,000 bu by September, with about 257 million bu of this total reported by the major wheat-growing states of Minnesota, the two Dakotas, and Montana. These four states also were expected to produce 15,050,000 bu of winter wheat, for a total of about 272 million bu. Their 1918 Marquis grain harvest totalled about 177 million bu. If the average price per bu was US$2.00, its value was US$354 million. Other states contributed another 86 million bu, probably one-half Marquis. Thus the total value of the harvest came to more than US$370 million. (7, p. 245)
Crop Values of Marquis in North America, 1917-1918
|Canada||United States||Total Value|
Source: Buller (7, p. 245)
It appears from the above table that even though the Marquis variety was created in Canada, by 1918 more was grown in the United States than in Canada. (7, p. 245)
All these millions were paid for the descendants of a single grain of Halychanka (Red Fife) wheat from Ukraine that reached Canada in 1842. If it had not arrived, I believe these totals would have been much lower.
The recognition of the excellent baking qualities of this wheat by American millers and grain traders soon gave it immense commercial value. Most important, the development of Ukrainian wheat on the American continent became a significant asset for the Allies during World War I. Indeed, i believe Marquis helped the Allies win the war. In 1918 the Marquis harvest in Western Canada and the United States totalled more than 300 million bu -- enough to make bread to feed 50 million people for a whole year. At US$2.00/bu, its value was more than US$600 million. (7, p. 246)
It is easy to quantify the prosperity this variety brought to the United States. The wealth it generated created a strong foundation for their agricultural economy. For example, the 1917 Marquis harvest in Minnesota alone brought a gain in wealth of more than seven million dollars. (7, p. 249) There were equally important intangibles -- like the pride and sense of achievement generated by this immense economic accomplishment -- not only for the farmers but the whole American government. .
One measure of the impact of this variety on Canadian agriculture is the fact that about 80% of all wheat grown in Western Canada after 1918 was Marquis. It was grown on summer fallow land and yielded at least 20% more than the previously dominant variety -- Red Fife. The 1918 wheat harvest totalled 162 million bu, an increase of 16 million bu. If we factor in Canada's unfavourable climate, which often caused rust or early frost damage to Red Fife, then the benefit to this country was even greater. (7, p. 254)
According to Mr. Milner, a former president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, the final figure for the years 1915-1918 was 376,448,400 bu. An annual increase of 25 million bu a year was directly attributable to the introduction of Marquis. As a result, more bread and other wheat products became available to more than two million Canadians. (7, p. 254-255)
Although wheat prices were lower then, the annual farm income generated in Western Canada by the Marquis variety increased from $11.2 million to $17.5 million by 1918. During World War I, wheat prices increased at least three times. Revenues from sales of Marquis filled the pockets of Canadian farmers with millions of dollars for many years. Taxes on sales of this wheat generated significant economic benefits for the federal government and made it possible to build elementary and secondary schools, agricultural colleges, and universities in the Western provinces. The careful, persistent work of Charles Saunders, together with the genetics of the Ukrainian ancestors of the Marquis variety, made a large contribution to Canada's early economic growth. (7, pp. 255-256)
The Marquis variety thrived under the growing conditions in Western Canada: this encouraged farmers to expand their wheat fields and also may have encouraged a large increase in the number of new farmers and immigrants. Indeed, the impact of the Marquis variety on Canadian agriculture was so great that it cannot be expressed merely in terms of bushels per acre or dollars per year.
- Developed and introduced by Charles Saunders at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, it originates from Ukrainian Halychanka (Red Fife) wheat.
- It is a hard red spring wheat famous for its milling and baking qualities. It produces a higher yield and ripens an average of six days earlier than Red Fife.
- Discovered in 1903 and first distributed to farmers in Western Canada in 1909, it was the dominant spring wheat in Canada and the United States by 1918.
- Early Marquis harvests were huge:
- 1917 - more than 250 million bu worth $500 million; and
- 1918 - more than 300 million bu worth $600 million.
- In 1917 because of the replacement of Halychanka (Red Fife) by Marquis, Canada's wheat yield rose by more than 16 million bu, worth some $32 million.
- The replacement of the Bluestem, Fife, and Velvet Chaff varieties by Marquis increased the 1917 American wheat harvest by more than 10 million bu, worth $20 million.
- In 1917 the replacement of lower-yielding varieties with Marquis increased the North American wheat harvest by more than 26 million bu, worth $52 million. The food crisis of 1917-1918 made this additional wheat crucial to the Allies during World War I.
- Its great international success demonstrated the benefits of scientific research and development by governments, especially the establishment of the system of experimental farms in 1889. (Nos 1-8, from 7, pp. 257-258)
- According to the Dean of the College of Agriculture in Saskatchewan, L.E. Kirk, "Marquis variety was the highest-yielding wheat ever produced in the world." James Boyle of the College of Agriculture at Cornell University agreed: "The greatest single advance in wheat ever made by the United States was the introduction of that class of hard spring wheat known as Marquis wheat. The idea came to us free of charge from the Dominion of Canada's cerealist, Sir Charles E. Sanders. In the spring of 1903 he planted a single grain of this wheat. The following year there were 12 plants. Within 12 years these have multiplied into 250 million bushels." (12, p.13)
- The development of this variety not only contributed to a vastly expanded wheat production and greater agricultural and economic prosperity, but also the arrival of great numbers of immigrants to the southern parts of the three western provinces as well as the beginning of Canada's northward expansion. Canada's wheat fields increased from 5,096,053 acres in 1906 to 9,335,400 in 1914 and 16,125,451 in 1918. By 1940 this area had expanded to 27,750,000 acres.
- The value of wheat produced in the three western provinces between 1910 and 1948 comes to more than $17.5 billion. (12, p.15) More than 80% of this total was from Marquis wheat.
- By 1949 Canada's grain-growing areas in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta had expanded to some 200 million acres: 32,077,600 in Manitoba, 80,051,020 in Saskatchewan, and 87,449,600 in Alberta, all sown with Marquis and other varieties descended from the Ukrainian Halychanka (Red Fife) variety. (12, p. 14)
Kitchener is a selection of Marquis produced by Seager Wheeler at the Rosthern Experimental Farm in Saskatchewan in 1911. (7, p. 275) Its grain is darker and more oblong than Marquis, it ripens two to three days later, and its milling and baking qualities and the colour of its flour are inferior, although its yield is about the same and its straw is stronger. Kitchener is often rust-prone.
Quality is a selection of Marquis produced by Luther Burbank in Santa Rosa, California in about 1918. Its grain is white and larger than that of Marquis. Quality is one of the best white spring wheats for milling and bread baking. Its high yields, excellent quality, and adaptability to poorer soils made it quite popular in Manitoba; but its white grain, susceptibility to rust, and fast growth in rain eventually made it less popular. According to Mr. Burbank this wheat "is for all climates wherever wheat can be grown." (7, p. 235)
It is difficult to trace all the names Halychanka wheat has been given by various growers and researchers. Here is the story of one:
Professor A.E. Blaunt worked at the Agricultural College in Colorado in 1880. There he produced many different wheat hybrids with Red Fife, which then became commercial varieties. He named them after minerals: Amethyst, Feldspar, Granite, Gypsum, Hornblende, Quartz, Ruby, and Tourmaline. Some of these wheats were sent to a researcher by the name of W.J. Farrer in New South Wales, Australia, where he used the best of them as parents for his hybrids. (13, pp. 61-62)
Farrer did not indicate the origin of these Colorado wheats and gave some of them completely different names. These became known as the ancestors of his own hybrids. Thus the name of the original Ukrainian Halychanka (Red Fife) disappeared completely.
For example, Blaunt made two selections from the Ukrainian Halychanka (Red Fife) variety which he called Saxon Fife and Improved Fife as well as Blaunt's Fife, which became known commercially as Gypsum. Mr. Farrer received a sample of Gypsum and renamed it Blaunt's Lambrigg. He selected several plants, propagated them and gave them the new name of Bobs. This variety had white kernels along with some red ones, good yields and very good milling and baking qualities. >From Australia it travelled to William Saunders in Canada. Later, Bobs was recognized in the United States. Commenting ruefully on the name changes, American researcher R. Ball wrote: "This is an example of our own grain going overseas and coming back to us renamed." (13, p. 62)
When Saunders received his sample of the Bobs variety, he acknowledged that its yields were better than those of Marquis but he did not want to introduce it into Western Canada because of its white grain. On the British grain markets Australia was known for white varieties, while Canada was famous for red ones. Canada had set its export standard for wheat to be as red as possible and its evaluation criteria were set so as to discourage the cultivation of white wheat.
The later development of the Red Bobs variety is described by Buller (7, p. 262): "Mr. Wheeler of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, ... who was engaged in making selections from Dr. Saunders' strain of Early Red Fife and of Preston, heard of Bobs, and, during the winter of 1907-08, secured a ten-pound sample of it from the Experimental Farm at Indian Head." One interesting conclusion was that there was no difference between Early Red Fife, Preston, and Australian Bobs (1909). The plants of the Bobs variety were also very uniform.
In 1910 Wheeler repeated his experiment on an area of a quarter-acre.The outcome was the same, The only difference was that Wheeler found some Bobs spears with red grains. Wheeler therefore called the Bobs from Australia White Bobs, and this red-grained variety Red Bobs. In 1911, he sowed grains from each spike in separate rows. The plants grown from these first red grains were quite diverse. Some of them were similar to Red Fife, some of them were awned along the whole spike, some had short awns at the end of the spike and sometimes the whole spike was similar to Red Fife. Some were tall, some short, some in between. The same was true of their ripening characteristics: some were early types, others later types. All of the grains were red.
This diversity of characteristics shows that a natural hybrid had been produced in Wheeler's field in 1909. It was the result of a cross between White Bobs, Red Fife, and Preston. Segregation was demonstrated in the second generation in accordance with Mendel's laws. Buller's description of the selection details for the Red Bobs variety shows that in 1918 Red Bobs was already a completed variety. When a comparison of the Red Bobs, Marquis, and Kitchener varieties was done, Red Bobs was found to ripen a few days earlier than the other two.
There are two sources of information on the Red Bobs variety, assuming there was only one Red
Bobs in Canada. The first, of course, is Buller (7, pp. 259-277); the other (11, p. 39) explains the origin of Red Bobs as a "reselection of the Early Triumph variety made at the University of Alberta and first distributed in about 1925." On the origin of Early Triumph he writes: "In 1910 Seager Wheeler of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, found a spike of wheat with red grains among the Australian Bobs wheat he was growing in parallel with the Early Red Fife variety. The generation with these red grains was called Early Triumph." (11, p. 22) Note that the authors of the second publication do not mention the details in Buller, who does not mention Early Triumph.
A summary on how Red Fife went from Canada to the United States and Australia, and then back again is presented in the charts below.
Early Triumph looks different from Red Bobs, while the quality of its flour is very similar to Marquis. It is therefore one of the high-value category wheats. Red Bobs has a somewhat better-quality flour than Marquis but it is of the same colour. Red Bobs is grown mainly in southern Alberta, where it thrives.