Small Grains Initiative

Small Grains Initiative Background and Overview


Minnesota lawmakers first appropriated funding to advance research of Fusarium Head Blight (FHB, scab) in 1994, following the severe 1993 epidemic that affected much of the Northern Plains. This funding is now referred to as the “Small Grain Initiative (SGI), and is awarded to faculty within the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) on a biennial basis. The SGI provides a means for the U of M to initiate or accelerate problem-solving or opportunity research, and associated extension programs, and to support and sustain Minnesota’s wheat and barley industry. Although there are no set guidelines for minimum or maximum grants, it is the intent to fund significant, comprehensive proposals, rather than small individual proposals. The funds are restricted to project expenses; they are not intended for long-term recurring commitments for faculty and staff.

Review Process

A faculty review committee conducts an initial screening of the proposals and then provides recommendations to the SGI Steering Committee. The SGI steering committee is composed of the Executive Director of the Minnesota Wheat Growers Association, a Minnesota wheat grower, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Barley Growers Association, a Minnesota barley grower, the SGI Coordinator, and the CFANS Associate Dean for Research and Outreach. Progress and final reports are a requirement of funding.


The SGI may be the largest and most comprehensive scab research/extension initiative among agricultural experiment stations in the nation.

Thanks to the sustained funding commitment by the state of Minnesota, the U of M SGI has resulted in a number of structural and programmatic accomplishments including:

  • A working coalition between small grain producers and the U of M
  • Stronger linkages with crop scientists regionally and nationally to focus on scab research
  • Increased public awareness of the community-wide impacts of agricultural disasters
  • Better greenhouse and field research techniques, so that plant breeding material and pest management protocols can be tested no matter what the weather conditions
  • A more rapid and accurate means of measuring mycotoxin levels in grain samples

Programmatic accomplishments include:

  • New wheat and barley varieties with improved scab tolerance, to be followed by even better varieties several years down the road
  • Discovery of sources and different types of scab resistance in exotic and domestic gene pools
  • A better understanding of management techniques including:
      1. Chemical and biological control products
      2. Application techniques
      3. Better understanding of the impacts of tillage, previous crop, row spacing, companion crops, and other crop management approaches as a means of minimizing the susceptibility of wheat and barley to scab

    The Minnesota SGI was used as a model to obtain federal research funding via USDA-ARS. The current funding for the National Scab Initiative is $5.5 M. A Minnesota wheat grower served on the first steering committee.