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The History of Wheat Breeding
Ana Sofia Almeida, Benvindo Maçãs, Vitor Luís Gaspar
Rodrigues and Maria Manuel Torrão
The role of the Portuguese discoveries
in the global spread of wheat crop
around XV-XVIIth centuries
It is thought that wheat was introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the
Romans, but it was possibly even earlier, during the Neolithic periods (Carvalho
e Vasconcelos, 1942; Leite de Vasconcelos, 1936). The earliest known species
present in the Iberian Peninsula were the “triticum” type, consisting of two
varieties: bread wheat represented by Triticum vulgare hibernum and Trit icum
turgidum; and the “far adoreum” type, represented by “Triticum dicoccum” and
the “Triticum s pelta”.
Later, with the Arabian invasions in the 8th century, a third type would
be introduced, the so-called “Triticu m durum”, typical of the Mediterranean
region (Postan, 1966). According to Oliveira Marques (1978), these species were
prevalent in Portugal in the Middle Ages and are referred to in documentation
of the period. These species had several names – “Galician or early-growing
wheat”, “tremês or tremesinho wheat”, which was a three-months cycle wheat,
or “Moorish wheat”, referring to durum wheat.
Although the natural conditions in Portugal had always been considered
less than favourable to its cultivation, in the middle ages, cereals, especially
wheat, was the basic food for its population. During the last decades of the 14th
century and onwards the unsupportive laws applied to property ownership, the
rudimentary farming techniques in use, the limited areas of cleared land (as a
result of the lack of agricultural labour) and poor communications and internal
means of transport resulted in conditions detrimental to the production of the
required quantities and quality of arable crops. In addition, the climate was very
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4 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
irregular. This combination of unfavourable conditions resulted in poor perfor-
ming crops and subsequently, for repeated periods high food prices, including
essential staples such as bread. This occurred mainly in the major urban centres,
which forced the Portuguese Crown to decide to import food in order to avoid
widespread starvation and revolt of the population.
In fact, although wheat cultivation was then practised all over the Kingdom,
especially on the shorelines of the river Tagus and in Alentejo, between the late
14th century and mid-15th century, a general economic downturn in Europe
occurred, with a sharp reduction in Portuguese agriculture. This worsened the
already traditional Portuguese deficit of cereals. As stressed by Magalhães
Godinho (1944), this was eventually part of the cause not only of Portuguese
global expansion into Africa, but also, and chiefly, of the settlement on the
archipelagos of Madeira and Azores in the early 15th century. These islands
would soon become the breadbaskets of the Portuguese Kingdom and of the
Moroccan trading posts.
While a set of economic, political, social and geostrategic motivations were
major reasons for Portuguese expansion, it is important to note that wheat
scarcity in the Kingdom was also a major motivation for the settlement of the
Portuguese in Ceuta, one of the main commercial hubs of Morocco, and a main
cereal production and exportation centre for the Iberian Peninsula.
During the early occupation of the North African coast, the human and
technical resources for conquering the Moroccan hinterland were limited.
The Portuguese ventured no further than establishing a significant number
of fortresses along the North African coast. There was, in fact, an endemic
state of war prevailing in the daily life of the Portuguese garrisons in North
Africa. These continued not only as the result of military opposition from the
main local, indigenous sovereigns, but also due to the presence of numerous
contingents of Portuguese noblemen. These groups of “elites” were more
interested in mounting large military campaigns to obtain honour and benefit
for their family lineages. A peaceful settlement of the region was therefore
precluded, making it impossible to clear the land surrounding the fortifi-
cations for cultivation. It also prevented the occupiers access to the trade
of cereals, mainly those produced in the southwest of Morocco, destined
for export from the main harbors along the coast of the northwest region
of Africa, Maghreb. Later, in the early 16th century, D. Manuel sought to
displace the focus of the Portuguese expansion in North Africa to the more
south-westerly coastal regions of Morocco, Enxovia and Duquela, resulting
in the establishment of settlements in Azzemour, Mazagão (El Jadida) and
Safi. The objective was to form new supply centres for the Portuguese trading
posts, which dominated the strait of Gibraltar (i.e. Ceuta, Tangier, Ksar
es-Seghir and Asilah). However, for the same economic and political reasons
referred to above, these settlements also became dependant on shipments
of cereals from abroad, especially wheat produced in the Atlantic islands,
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 5
particularly S. Miguel and the Azores. As stated by Oliveira Marques (1978)
“… instead of establishing supply centres, the expansion into Morocco only
created new consumption and parasitizing centres of a metropolitan economy
The ever-increasing demand for cereals, particularly wheat, which had
become urgent as early as the late 14th century, motivated the Crown to clear
lands on Porto Santo and Madeira islands for cultivation, whose settlement
began early in the 1520s. According to the chronicler Frutuoso (1979), the initial
great fertility of these lands, resulted in a very high productivity of the cereals
planted there (a ratio of about 60 seeds harvested for each seed sown), including
barley, rye, but also wheat.
This abundant cereal productivity initially led to intense exportation of
cereal grain – mostly wheat – to the Portuguese Kingdom and to the African
trading posts. However, wheat productivity soon decreased for reasons not
well understood. The authorities of Madeira had to resort to the purchase of
wheat from the Azorean market in order to supply their warehouses, thus
preventing a high cost of bread within the archipelago. To address the ensuing
financial deficit, Prince Henry the Navigator established the planting of sugar-
cane on the cleared land as an alternative crop in the 1450s, further dimi-
nishing wheat production in Madeira. The supply of wheat to the Kingdom
and North African settlements then became almost entirely derived from the
Having started in the 1440s, the colonization of the Azores, gave way to a
period of further land clearing on the islands, whose wild grounds proved very
conducive to the production of wheat and other cereals (Freitas de Menezes,
2008). Crop productivity reached very high levels, especially on the Terceira
and S. Miguel Islands, where wheat produced unseen yields that lasted for
a long period (Velho Arruda, 1932). As a way to increase cereal production
from the Eastern Group of islands (S. Miguel and Santa Maria) and others,
legal provisions were created to exempt cereal exportation from taxation
(dízima). This pertained especially to wheat, which resulted in the transfor-
mation of these islands into the main supply centres of cereals to the Kingdom
and the Portuguese overseas possessions. Thus, throughout the second half
of the 15th century and the next, a subsequent colonization and land-clearing
movement took place all over the islands, though in a phased manner. As
stated by Oliveira Marques (1978), the delay of the settlement on the Central
and Western Groups of the archipelago “… came as a direct consequence
of the full income achieved by intensive farming on both S. Miguel and
Madeira”, which as a result absorbed the scarce human resources from the
Kingdom that were available.
Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, wheat was the main export from
S. Miguel, representing one of Portugal’s main global production hubs (Soeiro
de Brito, 1955). This was equally true for the island of Terceira, as reported by
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6 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
several chroniclers, such as Fernandes (1940), who refer to the great fertility of
its soils and the huge crop exports. Equally fertile was the island of Graciosa,
which, in spite of its small dimensions, produced high quantities of wheat, even
exceeding those of some other larger islands in the archipelago. Considering
Santa Maria, Faial, Flores and Corvo, the sources from that time allow us to
conclude that these islands had high relative fertility of their soils for the cultiva-
tion of wheat. Such was not the case on Pico and S. Jorge, because not only were
these islands very mountainous and rugged, their soils were inappropriate for
cereal crops (Freitas de Menezes, 2008).
Wheat production on the Azores continued to be very high throughout the
16th century, although, throughout this period, occasional crises of subsistence
occurred on the different islands. These crises were principally caused by an
export surplus relative to the significantly increasing population. The increase
in woad (Isatis tinctoria L.) cultivation, an important source of blue dye throu-
ghout the 16th century was also one of the obstacles to maintaining high levels
of cereal production on the Azores, since this crop increasingly occupied those
areas destined to wheat and other arable crops. Despite these limitations,
several testimonies report the Azorean lands as relatively wealthy in terms of
cereal production, although with intermittent periods of high cost of wheat.
Related popular rebellions against bread shortage would increase from the
turn of the 16th and 17th centuries onwards. However, these limitations did
not prevent the wheat from being exported on a large scale to the Kingdom
Concerning the other archipelagos under Portuguese sovereignty, namely
Cape Verde and S. Tomé, which are located off the west coast of Africa, the
hazards underlying wheat cropping and production were different. After the
settlement on the island Santiago, Cape Verde, in 1460, its settlers soon became
aware that the cultivation of wheat on those lands was impossible. Fruitless and
unsuccessful attempts and unproductive experiments led the settlers to state:
“This island gives you all the fruits from Portugal such as figs, grapes, sugar
melons and all other fruits that are planted, for the whole year. But it does not
give you wheat or barley” (Fernandes, 1951). This information, as referred to
in the first descriptive documents of the region during the early 16th century,
have not changed throughout the years. The status concerning cereal produc-
tion remained the same, as was clearly mentioned in Frutuoso (1939), where he
states: “This land gives you no wheat”.
The inhabitants of Santiago rapidly understood that the local climate,
annual rainfall and other environmental conditions raised insurmountable
obstacles to the introduction of some plants to this island. A major detri-
mental environmental factor was the local shorter photoperiod, of which the
direct effects on flowering and grain-filling were not understood at the time.
This was especially true for food crops originating from temperate Mediter-
ranean areas (with longer photoperiods), wheat being the most obvious case.
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 7
The settlers therefore were reliant on monthly shipments of Mediterranean
foodstuffs from Iberia, originating from harbors in Portugal and Cadiz, of
which, wheat was in terms of quantity the most relevant (Ferraz Torrão,
The import of these food products was crucial for the “survival” of the new
settlers in Santiago. This survival involved a significant psychological factor,
because although Santiago produced sufficient food to support the indigenous
population it was then commonly believed that an African diet was not suitable
for the body of a European man. A short extract of Antonioto de Usodimare’s
letter (15th century) clearly expressed that idea: “And the reason why I could
not remain is that I was out of provisions, and the white men utterly cannot eat
the black people’s food without getting ill or dying” (Garcia, 1983). This idea
prevailed throughout decades as a deeply rooted belief in the minds and the
speech of the white inhabitants of the islands of Cape Verde. For example, in
1521, circa 50 years after the initial European occupation of Santiago island,
they remained dependent on shipments of food from abroad, as suggested in the
letter sent from the island to D. Manuel, the King of Portugal: “On this island
there is no bread, wine or olive oil… and all is brought by the merchants from
Lisbon, Setúbal, Algarve, the islands of Madeira, Azores, Canarias, Castile…
if none of the merchants trading those products comes here, we will be totally
lost” (Albuquerque and Santos, 1988).
The difficulty to adapt to local diets, and the ensuing dependency on
supplies from Iberia also took place among the inhabitants of the Island of
S. Tomé, on which wheat cultivation was similarly impossible. As mentioned
by Fernandes (1951), very early in the 16th century: “Wheat seeded on this
island grows so thick as a cane. And it yields no seed nor does it ripen”. A
similar report is given by the Anonymous Pilot who, in his text from the
mid-16th century expressed: “After having tried to seed wheat, many times
and in different seasons of the year, it looks like it cannot mature completely,
growing fully as a grass, high, without producing any grain in the spikes.
Those living on this island, having seeded in different months, never got
any fruit, and after thoroughly considering the case, they say the plant puts
everything into grass due to the fatness of the land” (Loureiro, 1989). Now
we know that the shorter photoperiods on this islands being located closer to
the equator, were the reason that wheat originating from higher latitudes in
Europe would not fully complete their reproductive cycle and largely remain
in their vegetative state.
Therefore, as on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde, the inhabitants of S.
Tomé also required shipments of food from the Kingdom. While, in Cape
Verde, the Iberian merchants used to load their ships with black slaves for trade
in exchange for wheat, wine, olive oil and other goods from abroad, on S. Tomé
they traded with sugar: “The main business of the inhabitants is sugar produc-
tion and its sale to the ships that come every year to take it away. These ships
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8 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
carry barrels of flour and wines from Iberia […]. Without them bringing food
products, the white merchants would die, since they are not used to the same
food eaten by the Negroes” (Loureiro, 1989).
So, these two Atlantic archipelagos were territories of wheat consump-
tion, a serious situation for the Portuguese Kingdom itself, which was also in
high deficit of this cereal. The need to keep a regular wheat supply of these
Afro-Atlantic islands is documented within a permit issued by D. João III, in
November 1556, to buy wheat from the Netherlands for trade within Cape Verde
and S. Tomé. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, trade with these islands
for slaves and sugar was reduced. The slaves bought in the city of Ribeira
Grande, in Cape Verde, were replaced by those shipped from the harbours
along the coast of Guinea, and new sugar cane plantations in Brazil replaced
sugar supply from S. Tomé. Therefore, shipments of cereal supplies from abroad
became economically unfavourable, due to their decline in commercial impor-
tance and a shift to alternative Atlantic trade routes. This forced the European
inhabitants of Santiago and S. Tomé to essentially for-go wheat consumption in
their diet and replace it with maize.
Regarding the West African coast south of the equator, where Portuguese
settlement was mostly confined to coastal areas, it is known that wheat farming
was attempted both in Congo and Angola (Cavazzi de Montecúccolo, 1965).
However, as in S. Tomé, “instead of getting ripe, it grows like grass, taller than
a man on horseback”. As referred by Mendes Ferrão (2006) this was due to the
fact that the wheat varieties brought by the Portuguese to these areas of the
globe “… could hardly produce spikes in these latitudes given the influence of
photoperiod.” This is the reason why, in Brazil, from the 17th century onwards,
as referred to above, seeds from other South American regions became a
resource, as they were already acclimatised.
In the case of Brazil, as referred to by Buarque de Holanda (2008), wheat
was introduced very early, but did not achieve a great significance, as it was
soon replaced in the diet by cassava, “… the native product that most quickly
conquered the European settlers”. Buarque de Holanda (2008) states that
because of this, during the initial period of settlement “… the only substantial
progress introduced by these [European settlers] was the use of the wine-press
(usually intended for flour production) along with the tipiti of straw” (a cylin-
drical basket, wherein the cassava pasta was put to be pressed).
In the early settlement period, wheat was cultivated mostly in coastal areas.
The inappropriate conditions for cassava crops on S. Paulo’s Plateau favoured
the increase in wheat cultivation in the region. The population growth that
occurred there also motivated the urgent development of wheat farming in the
17th century. Its increase introduced a wide range of European technical utensils
in the region, directly linked to cereal cultivation, such as, the azenhas “water-
mills” and atafonas, “mills moved by work animals”, besides the essential
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 9
There are several testimonies attesting the early presence of wheat culture
in S. Paulo’s Captaincy, late in the 16th century. Priest Baltazar Fernandes
stated, in 1567, “… just as it happened in the Kingdom, the lands of Pirati-
ninga would yield wheat in quantity and quality, they just had to be sowed”
(Cartas Avulsas, 1550-1568). Later on, ca. 1585, this statement would be
confirmed by Cardim (1540-1625), who, in reference to the plants that had
been taken from the Portuguese Kingdom and grew well in Brazil, said that
“… in Rio de Janeiro and Campo de Piratininga, wheat fits well, it is not
used because they do not have windmills, and they also have hard work to
collect it, as it does not have a uniform maturity, because of the constant rain-
fall along the growth cycle and the great fertility of the soils”. On the other
hand, Cardim (1540-1625) exalted the great fertility of those lands, saying
that wheat “… multiplies itself so much that one grain generates seventy
or eighty ears, with sprouted spikes always bearing new ones, looking like
an in-finitum multiplication. From less than a quarter of barley that a man
sows on the field of Piratininga, he collected sixty or seventy bushels, and
if the men worked properly, the land would be rich and plenty”. However,
the production of wheat in that captaincy was still very scarce at that time,
which led Gabriel Soares to state, in 1587, “… because his scarce productions
are very short, they would only give some sacramental wafer and biscuits”
(Buarque de Holanda, 2008).
Only later in the next century did wheat cultivation significantly increase
with the use of local seeds, mostly originating from the Rio da Prata region,
which had much higher potential than those from the Kingdom, which were
essentially useless in the local climate. D. Francisco de Sousa, assigned to the
Brazilian government in 1608 for the superintendence of the mines located in
the southern captaincies of S. Vicente, Espírito Santo e Rio de Janeiro, had a
major influence in this increase (Buarque de Holanda, 2008). He requested the
King´s intervention to allow the shipping of higher quality seeds from the gover-
nors of Rio Prata and Tucumã. This action eventually opened additional trade
routes, including those supplying higher quality seed stocks via the harbours of
Santos or Rio de Janeiro.
The development of wheat cultivation in these areas throughout the 17th
century is also confirmed by the references to wheat and to wheat fields
reported in the inventories of the properties, these having achieved an increasing
relevance on the production amounts of the “roças” (land used for agricultural
From that described above, on the relevance of wheat both in Portugal and in
the Atlantic areas under its sovereignty, it follows that the cultivation, production
and the search for wheat supply markets played an important role in the history
of Portuguese territories throughout the 15th to the 17th centuries. As an essen-
tial constituent of the Portuguese diet, the requirement for wheat had a marked
influence on the Portuguese expansion overseas.
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10 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Figure 1 ■ Portugal’s position in Europe (left); and Portugal, with the major wheat-
growing region – Alentejo – circled (right).
Main agroecological traits of Portugal
Portugal is a country located in south-western Europe on the Iberian
Peninsula, between latitudes 37°N and 42°N and longitudes 9.5°W and 6.5°W.
Portugal is the westernmost country of mainland Europe and is bordered by
the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and by Spain to the north and east
(figure 1). The Atlant ic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira are also part of
Its main river, called the Tagus, splits mainland Portugal in two. The
northern landscape is mountainous in the interior with plateaus indented by river
valleys, whereas the south, which includes the Algarve and the Alentejo regions
(the major Portuguese wheat growing zone, figure 1), features mostly rolling
plains and a climate warmer and drier than in the north. Portugal’s highest point
is Mount Pico on Pico Island in the Azores. This is an ancient volcano measu-
ring 2,350 m above sea level (masl). Mainland Portugal’s highest point is Serra
da Estrela, with the summit being 1,993 masl.
Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, classified as “Csa” in the south, and
“Csb” in the north (figure 2), according to the Köppen climate classification
(Kottek et al., 2006). The Mediterranean climate is essentially characterized by
a very long, hot and dry summer with precipitation concentrated in the autumn
and winter. Winter is often short and even-tempered. Globally, the regions with
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 11
Figure 2 ■ Distribution of the Mediterranean climate (Köppen classification) in
this type of climate represent 10-15% of the total production of wheat (Loss
and Siddique, 1994). Figure 3 shows the world areas with a Mediterranean
climate, namely south/south-west/south-east of Europe, Turkey, North Africa,
West Asia, California, Chile, South Africa, and Southern Australia.
Portugal is one of the warmest European countries: the annual average
temperature in mainland Portugal varies from 13°C in the mountainous inte-
rior north to over 18°C in the south (Guadiana basin – Alentejo region). The
annual average rainfall varies from approximately 3,000 mm in the mountains
in the north (Minho region) to less than 600 mm in southern parts of Alentejo
(figure 1). In Portugal, 42% of the annual precipitation occurs in winter,
whereas summer accounts for only 6%. The transitional seasons, spring and
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12 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
autumn, contribute the remaining 52% of the total annual precipitation. The
distribution of the precipitation is very irregular from year to year. Tempera-
tures, although variable, are a climatic element more conservative than precipi-
tation. The average temperature varies regularly throughout the year.
The country has around 2,500-3,200 hours of sunshine per year (an average
of 4-6 h/day in winter and 10-12 h/day in summer), with higher values in the
southeast and lower ones in the northwest.
The areas chosen for cereal cultivation in southern Portugal are largely
dictated by the local precipitation levels, mainly due to the low water storage
capacity of their soils. The country has a wide range of soil types. In southern
Portugal, three types of soil can be found (Alves, 1961; Cardoso, 1965), litho-
sols and litholic soils of shale and sandstones; Mediterranean soils and podzols;
and black and red clays. More than half of southern Portugal is dominated by
litholic soils, which are acidic with low fertility, and shallow, which makes them
unfit for wheat cultivation. In the second group it is possible to find some soils
of high fertility, when derived from diorite and quartzodiorite and some derived
from shale. The third group, with fertile soils, is limited to restricted areas not
exceeding 15% of the total area. These highly productive soils have good water
holding capacity and good drainage.
In Portugal, 39% of the total population lives in predominantly rural regions.
Consequently, the issue of maintaining or increasing the competitiveness of
rural areas assumes crucial importance, with agriculture and the food industry
performing an important role. The agricultural population accounts for about
11% of the total Portuguese population. The share of agriculture in gross
domestic product (GDP) has been declining and corresponded to just 1.2% in
2009 (table 1).
Figure 3 ■ Distribution of Mediterranean type environments in the world.
(Source: Adapted from Loss and Siddique, 1994)
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 13
The characteristics of the Portuguese climate and soils described above
favours the use of spring wheat varieties sown in autumn. Since the winter
season is mild with high levels of radiation, wheat plants express vigorous
tillering, while nutrients and water are no limiting factors. In this context, the
“source” tends to become quite important with great amounts of biomass, resul-
ting in competition with the “sink” in the 30-40 day period before anthesis.
During grain-filling, wheat plants generally face rising temperatures resulting in
early senescence, when compared with cooler climates. The grain-filling stage
is very critical for grain yield, since senescence tends to occur before physiolo-
gical maturity, often resulting in a low harvest index.
Cereals are part of plant products that contribute to the total value of agri-
cultural production in Portugal. This includes vegetables (21%), fruits (13%)
and wine (15%). In 2011, cereals represented about 4% of the total agricultural
output (figure 4).
Table 1 ■ Share of a griculture in the Portuguese economy in 2009.
Share of agriculture in the
GDP (GVA/GDP) (%)
Employment in the
hunting and fishing sector
EU-27 1.1 5.1
Portugal 1.2 11.2
(Source: Agriculture in the European Union – Statistical and Economic Information – Report 2010,
EU-Directorate-General for Agriculture, European Commission)
Figure 4 ■ Share of Portuguese production value (basic prices, millions of euro, 2011).
(Source: Eurostat, 2012)
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14 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Concerning areas dedicated to crop cultivation, wheat represented 16% of the
total area sown with cereals in Portugal in 2011 (figure 5). This area has been
declining dramatically: in 1990 the area occupied by wheat was 757,300 ha, in
2000 it was 577,921 ha and in 2011 just 276,411 ha.
The extensive farming systems of Portugal are based primarily on production
systems, which include grain cereals as main crops, and livestock. The Alentejo
region (figure 1) is the predominant Portuguese region for the production of
wheat: about 90% of the national area planted with this cereal is in Alentejo.
Area, production and yield
The inter-annual variations of the harvested production of Portuguese bread
and durum wheat over the last thirty years show a marked lack of regularity
(figure 6). This lack of regularity involves variation in the area utilised for
wheat production (figure 7) and the variation observed in yield (figure 8), due to
erratic inter-annual climatic conditions.
The area cultivated with cereals has decreased 63% in the last 30 years
(481,000 ha). This trend has contributed to the drastic decrease observed in
the area utilized for durum wheat production from the 2003/2004 season,
as a consequence of the European policies for agriculture. The reform of the
Common Agricultural Policy, based on “decoupling” subsidies, which became
effective at the beginning of 2005, combines a number of partially decoupled
direct payments within a single farm payment that is defined on the basis of
historical rights. As a direct effect of all these policies, the area sown with
durum wheat in Portugal, in the last 5 years has experienced a significant
Fi gure 5 ■ Evolution of wheat area share in total area sown with cereals in Portugal.
(Source: Eurostat, 2012)
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 15
decrease (figure 7). A specific quality premium for durum wheat was esta-
blished to preserve the role it plays in cereal production zones and to enhance
the production of high quality durum wheat for semolina and pasta production.
During some years this decrease was partly compensated by an increase in
bread wheat area (figure 7).
Currently, livestock production systems mainly based on local cattle breeds
have replaced wheat production systems. Farmers still use cereals in these
mixed systems to provide forage to feed their animals.
Fig ure 6 ■ Variation in harvested production in Portugal from 1990 to 2011.
(Source: Eurostat, 2012)
Figu re 7 ■ Changes in the area (ha) utilised for wheat cultivation in Portugal from
1990 to 2011.
(Source: Eurostat, 2012)
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16 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Cultivation techniques and practice
In Portugal, wheat is sown in the autumn, from late October until mid-
December when the temperatures begin to fall. Vegetative growth takes place in
winter, and heading time in the beginning of spring, ±10 days around April 1st,
as temperature and photoperiod increase. Grain is harvested in early summer
(first weeks of June) before the hottest months of the year.
The “not recommended” practice of late sowing in January or February
results in poor yields, mainly because of delaying the growing season. Grain-
filling occurs at high temperatures and low water availability. Spring growth-
habit types, when sown early (late October), are also affected by the occurrence
of late frosts during the heading stage and anthesis.
In Portugal, wheat production systems, which often include animal produc-
tion, are generally practised under rainfed conditions associated with an
annually scarce and erratic precipitation. The unpredictable effects of the envi-
ronment on productivity can be buffered somewhat by crop management prac-
tices, principally irrigation. In this context, changes are occurring in the agri-
cultural systems of southern Portugal linked with an enlargement of irrigated
areas for crop cultivation, made possible by the increasing availability of water
for irrigation from a huge public dam (Alqueva). Additionally, since the Medi-
terranean annual rainfall pattern is highly variable, making it difficult to ensure
the required quantity of water to maintain spring or summer crops, there has
been an increase in the introduction of wheat during the annual rotation, even if
wheat crops compete with more profitable crops. This is due to the possibility to
get higher yields and more stable production by using less water than for spring
or summer crops.
Figur e 8 ■ Average wheat yield in Portugal from 1990 to 2011.
(Source: Eurostat, 2012)
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 17
The possibility of irrigation opens new avenues for the utilization of high-
yield wheat varieties. In the last several years, experimental data obtained by the
National Plant Breeding Station in southern Portugal, show strong evidence that
a cross-over genotype x environment interaction (GxE) exists when we consider
irrigated versus rainfed management systems (Maçãs, 1996). This means that in
order to better explore the genetic yield potential, suitable varieties to irrigated
conditions are needed. Maçãs et al. (2000) and Almeida (2007), studying heat
stress effects in wheat under Mediterranean conditions, also demonstrated that
when water stress is avoided, wheat grain yield under irrigation depends more
on the genotypes having heat tolerance.
Experiments conducted in the south of Portugal, under irrigation and
carried out on two different soil types, including winter, facultative and spring
genotypes, demonstrated the importance of using adapted varieties to obtain
high yields (table 2). Results clearly indicated the relative advantage of the
Table 2 ■ Grain yield, test weight and thousand kernel weight of three different groups
of genotypes differing in growth cycle duration. Data were obtained in two different
sites, Beja in 2010/2011 and Monforte in 2011/2012.
Linha 1 Winter 8,855 73.39 32.0 6,485 76.11 38.7
Linha 3 Winter 7,434 70.89 28.7 5,774 73.70 34.5
Linha 2 Winter 5,714 67.13 23.6 5,710 72.36 29.4
Aguila Facultative 8,017 69.58 27.8 6,376 74.35 39.7
Nogal Facultative 10,919 80.46 33.3 6,320 76.59 35.9
Inoui Facultative 9,165 74.46 33.6 6,828 78.57 43.8
Bologna Facultative 9,122 82.23 38.9 4,924 81.54 36.7
Ingenio Facultative 8,361 75.43 39.6 6,996 76.41 53.0
Eufrates Facultative 8,161 80.91 30.4 6,227 80.34 36.6
Bad iel Facultative 6,536 75.62 31.9 5,299 76.86 41.4
Flycatcher ‘s’/… Spring 8,485 74.63 32.9 6,886 74.71 40.8
Roxo Spring 7,413 82.65 38.9 5,540 79.95 42.7
Nabão Spr ing 7,385 81.27 30.5 7,708 81.15 33.1
TE 0206 Sp ring 6 ,8 06 77.90 38.8 7,151 77.69 47.4
TE 0205 Spring 6,048 79.82 38.2 8,433 79.40 45.4
Pata-negra Spring 6,029 77.72 39.6 6,574 80.68 40.6
Alabanza Spring 5,957 76.60 34.3 6,334 77.96 43.3
Mané-Nick Spring 5,775 69.90 32.5 59,22 73.44 39.9
Ardila Spring 5,408 74.51 28.2 6,275 78.49 34.5
Siena Spring 5,391 68.93 24.3 5,320 74.21 30.8
Mean 7,349 75.70 32.9 6,354 77,22 39.4
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18 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
facultative growth habit group with growth cycles fine-tuned to the environ-
ment. For this group of genotypes it was possible to enhance genetic yield
potential with adaptation characteristics, as measured by test weight values.
Heading dates are comprised in the window of opportunity of 10 days around
April 1st. This kind of adaptation for the Mediterranean areas is achieved by
the introduction of favourable combinations of vernalization and day-length
In the new context of irrigation, crop management experiments are also
being conducted in southern Portugal, mainly to achieve a better-balanced
source/sink ratio with the final aim of obtaining 600/750 spikes/m2.
A new sowing method has been introduced with good results; wheat is sown
in paired lines (figure 9). In this method, each third row is not sown, resulting
in an increase of row-spacing for each row from 12.5 cm to 25 cm; the sowing
rate is reduced by one-third compared with the normal rate (usually 350 viable
seeds/m2). Results show that yield can be preserved (table 3) and constraints
such as disease incidence and lodging are reduced. Clear improvements in
harvest index are observed resulting from a better water use efficiency (WUE)
and radiation use efficiency (RUE).
Figure 9 ■ Bread wheat sown in paired rows (Portugal). In this row-spacing method
each third row is not sown, to provide proper separation.
Quality and end uses
Portugal is a country that is presently highly dependent on the importa-
tion of wheat. In this context, the internal demand for this commodity is quite
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 19
important and quality tends to not be an important trait due to the multitude of
possible end-uses. In the last several years this trend is changing and speciali-
zation for quality characterization is becoming an important challenge for the
wheat sector. The baby food sector represents one of these examples. Portugal
has good wheat production conditions in specific regions, mainly under rainfed
conditions, to produce cereals with low pesticide content that fulfil the require-
ments of the baby food industry.
Major wheat production constraints
High temperatures during grain filling period causing heat stress
In southern Portugal, as in other Mediterranean environments, the rising
temperatures in spring, coincide with the later stages of wheat development
during heading and anthesis (figure 10), and should be considered as an
important factor limiting yield. High temperatures, above 30°C, affect final
grain weight by reducing the duration of grain-filling (Al-Khatib and Paulsen,
1984; Jenner 1994). The reduction in grain weight may be compensated by an
increase in grain-filling rate (Dias, 2009). In Elvas, southern Portugal, tempe-
ratures above this range are very common, even during the beginning of spring,
when cereals are at the booting stage. Short periods of very high temperatures
(30-37°C) also occur in some years (figure 10, namely for 2003, 2010).
Inter-annual variation of total precipitation and erratic distribution during
Rainfall in Portugal is very uneven over the years (figures 11 and 12). This
irregularity occurs at the level of the total amount and distribution of rainfall
throughout the growth cycle (figure 13).
Table 3 ■ Grain yield, test weight, thousand kernel weight and number of grains/m2 of
Portuguese bread wheat varieties sown on normal (row spacing of 12.5 cm) and paired rows.
Var iety Yield
Sowing Type Paired Normal Paired Paired Normal Paired
Jordão 4,700 5,017 80.20 80.80 31.38 33.47 14,978 14,989
Sever 4,333 4,867 76.70 76.50 46.97 45.02 9,226 10,810
Alva 3,700 4,150 75.30 76.70 40.31 43.41 9,179 9,560
Almansor 4,500 5,067 78.50 77.70 48.05 46.81 9,365 10,824
Roxo 4,367 4,883 78.40 80.80 41.24 44.51 10,588 10,971
Nabão 4,333 5,633 79.90 80.10 32.38 32.46 13,383 17,355
Ardila 3,833 4,700 78.20 77.40 36.46 38.63 10,514 12,167
Mean 4,252 4,902 78.20 78.57 39.54 40.62 11,033 12,382
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20 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
1-Mar-03 31-Mar-03 30-Apr-03 30-May-03 29-Jun-03
Maximum temperature (°C )
Temperatures above 30ºC-GF
1-Mar-10 31-Mar-10 30-Apr-10 30-May-10 29-Jun-10
Maximum temperature (°C )
Temperatures above 30ºC-GF
1-Mar-04 31-Mar-04 30-Apr-04 30-May-04 29-Jun-04
Maximum temperature (°C )
Temperatures above 30ºC-GF
01-Mar-08 31-Mar-08 30-Apr-08 30-May-08 29-Jun-08
Maximum temperature (°C )
Temperatures above 30ºC-GF
Figure 10 ■ Maximum temperatures between March and June occurring in the Elvas
region, in 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2010. Horizontal lines indicate the grain-filling period
(beginning of April until mid-June). The years 2003 and 2010 illustrate a frequent
environmental constraint that occurs in southern Portugal: several days with maximum
temperatures above 30°C during the wheat grain-filling period.
The apparent trend towards reduction of spring precipitation (figure 11) has
had a significant negative impact on wheat production, further exacerbated
with a concurrent increase in maximum temperatures during the grain-filling
There is not a discernible pattern for the amount of rainfall in a given month
over years (figure 13). December is generally the month with the higher inter-
annual variability, with a maximum of 311 mm, in 1989 and a minimum of
3 mm, in 1993.
Possible occurrence of late frosts during heading
and anthesis growth stages
The incidence of frost can be very detrimental when it occurs during the
reproductive stage of wheat development (Singh et al., 1991). During the final
phase from stem elongation, booting and heading stages, the effect of frost on
yield is more pronounced, especially because after these phases, any potential
compensatory effects are minimal, since during the final stages of development
plants face increased temperatures and decreased water availability, especially
in dry areas. This phenomenon is not uncommon in Mediterranean climates,
including those in the southern wheat belt of Australia.
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 21
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Precipitation winter Average 1953-1980 Average 1981-2010
1953-1980 = 243.4 mm
1981-2010 = 196.8 mm
Figure 11 ■ Winter precipitation occurrence in the Elvas region, between 1953 and
2010. Mean values (horizontal lines) for intervals 1953-1980 and 1981-2010 are pres-
ented, showing a decline of 46 mm in the last 30 years.
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Precipitation spring Average 1953-1980 Average 1981-2010
1953-1980 = 151.8 mm
1981-2010 = 128.2 mm
Figure 12 ■ Precipitation occurrence during the spring season in the Elvas region,
between 1953 and 2010. Mean values for intervals 1953-2010 and 1981-2010 are pres-
ented showing a decrease of 24 mm in the last 30 years.
In April, the anticyclone generally centred in the Azores or in the northeast
of this archipelago, with a crest penetrating into northern Europe, causes the
advection of a continental polar air mass. This leads to the occurrence, with
some frequency, of advection-radiation frosts. In the 10 years from 1991 to
2000, there were in Elvas, southern Portugal, six years with frosts in April
during the beginning of grain-filling (table 4).
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22 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Figure 13 ■ Erratic distribution of monthly rainfall in the Elvas region, over a period
of 20 years.
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 23
The occurrence of late frosts highlights the potential use of very early
heading germplasm that would be interesting in the environmental Mediterra-
nean context of Portugal, to avoid heat stress during grain-filling. On the other
hand early varieties tend to be lower yielding.
The increased application of conservation agriculture techniques, such as
direct sowing and minimum tillage, and the incorporation of wheat in new rota-
tion systems involving also legumes have led to an increase in straw and crop resi-
dues on the soil surface. This may have consequences for the incidence of fungal
inoculums and a subsequent increase in root diseases, such as eyespot (Pseudo-
cercosporella herpotrichoides (Fron) Deighton) and Fusarium spp. Collaterally, a
higher incidence of pests are present, such as calamobius and wheat stem sawfly.
It is therefore extremely important to identify genotypes with resistance/tolerance
to these “new” constraints for crops, where conservation agriculture is practised or
planned. On the other hand, trade-off analyses are in order.
Some leaf diseases such as Septoria tritici can occur during wet seasons even
though good genetic resistance has been introduced into the current varieties.
The intensive use of CIMMYT germplasm in the breeding program has led to
the almost complete eradication of leaf rust diseases.
Wheat breeding history
The Portuguese wheat breeding program was initiated in 1942, to provide
Portuguese farmers with varieties adapted to their agricultural systems and to
address both opportunities and limitations imposed by the Mediterranean climate.
Thousands of years ago, similar to that which occurred throughout the Medi-
terranean basin, wheat played a decisive role in boosting agriculture and food
for the Portuguese people. As a result, wheat breeding in Portugal has distant
roots and represents a deep source of knowledge (Barradas and Bagulho, 1967).
Soon after the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws in 1901, the agronomist Alfredo le
Coq laid the guidelines for improving wheat through science-based breeding,
starting with a program of artificial hybridizations at the Agricultural Research
Station in Lisbon. New cultivars were obtained from this work, including a
Triticum turgidum L. and several Triticum aestivum L. (Barradas, 1966), which
contributed a significant advance in germplasm improvement.
Table 4 ■ Last frosts occurrence between 1991 and 2000.
1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Month Feb April April April April March Feb March April April
Date 20 10 18 13, 21 25 4, 5, 12,
15-18 16, 18 1, 2 19, 20 5
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24 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Utilization of landraces – Vasconcellos wheat collection (1933)
The review and study of national wheat germplasm resulted in the establishment
of a wheat collection that represented the genetic variability of regional varieties of
Portuguese wheat (Vasconcellos, 1933). Most of these varieties are tetraploid durum
types (80%; table 5). The strong Mediterranean climatic influence on the centre and
south of Portugal may have influenced the occurrence of such a high percentage of
tetraploid wheat in Portugal’s indigenous germplasm (Vasconcellos, 1933).
In 1936, with the creation of the National Agronomic Station (NAS) in
Lisbon, research on wheat (and other species), including on breeding and gene-
tics was intensified, and in south Portugal (Elvas), a department of Plant Bree-
ding focusing on breeding activities was created.
The increasing progress of on-going experiments and the importance of
results obtained led to the creation of the Plant Breeding Station (PBS) at Elvas
in 1942. To date this public research institution has the responsibility to carry
out cereal breeding programs for the country, and continues to be the only wheat
breeding program focused on Portuguese conditions.
The breeding work that Victoria Pires implemented in the newly created
research station consisted of the re-selection of Portuguese wheat germplasm
cultivated in the country for centuries (Vasconcellos wheat collection), while
simultaneously carrying out artificial crosses to develop new varieties. In this
phase several new lines were selected, including, Galego Barbado, Galego
Rapado, Temporão de Coruche, Ribeiro, Mocho de Espiga Branca, and
Precoce, among others (table 6, figure 15).
Figure 14 ■ Three generations of Portuguese wheat breeders, Francisco Bagulho,
Manuel Barradas and Benvindo Maçãs (from right to left), with Dr. Norman Borlaug at
the National Plant Breeding Station at Elvas, Portugal.
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 25
Table 5 ■ Wheat species identified in Portuguese indigenous flora.
Triticum aestivum (L.) Thell 20
ssp. vulgare (Vill) MK 13 18.3
ssp. compactum (Host) MK 1 1.4
Triticum turgidum (L.) Thell 80
conv. turgidum 16 22.5
conv. durum (Desf) MK 40 56.3
conv. polonicum (L.) MK 1 1.4
(Source: Barradas, 1969)
Table 6 ■ Origin of bread wheat varieties released in Portugal from 1939 to 1948.
Variety Year of release Origin Success in terms of
adoption by farmers
Tremês Branco 1939 Portugal
Galego Rapado 1939 Portugal
Barbaro 1939 Portugal
Precoce 1939 Portugal
Ardito 1940 Italy Highly
Mocho Espiga Branca 1940 Portugal
Temporão de Coruche 1940 Portugal
Ribeiro 1941 Portugal
Quaderna 1942 Italy Highly
Roma 1942 Italy
Rietti 1946 Italy
Mentana 1946 Italy Highly
Galego Barbado 1948 Portugal
394041 424344 454647 4849 50 5152 53 5455 56 5758 5960 6162 63 6465 66 6768 697071 72
Mocho Espiga Branca
Temporão de Coruche
Figure 15 ■ Bread wheat varieties released in Portugal during the 40s and corres-
ponding period in which they were preserved in the National Catalogue of Varieties of
Agricultural Plant Species.
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26 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Introduction of Italian germplasm
The second phase of wheat breeding in Portugal, occurred during the period
1950 to 1970, and consisted of the intensification of exploring desirable transgressive
segregation for agronomic and adaptation traits. The PBS developed the first Portu-
guese variety (Pirana) from a cross between Strampelli’s Italian wheat Mentana and
the Portuguese wheat line Mocho de Espiga Branca. Pirana was widely cultivated.
Due to its shorter cycle compared to other varieties, its resistance to rusts attacks and
its shorter straw, it became a good alternative for Portuguese farmers.
Several bread and durum wheat varieties emanated from the PBS National
breeding program until 1967, namely Restauração, Padeira, Mucaba, Rural,
Lavrador and Chaimite (table 7, figure 16). In addition, during this period, wheat
50 5152 53 5455 56 5758 5960 6162 63 6465 66 6768 697071 727374 757677 7879
50 5152 53 5456 55 5758 597071 727374 767577 7879
Figure 16 ■ Bread wheat varieties released in Portugal during the 1950s and 1960s
and corresponding period in which they were preserved in the National Catalogue of
Varieties of Agricultural Plant Species.
Table 7 ■ Origin, pedigree and success in terms of adoption by farmers of bread wheat
varieties released in Portugal during the period 1950-1969.
Var iety Ye ar of
release Origin Cross/pedigree Success in terms of
adoption by farmers
Pirana 1950 Portugal Mentana/Mocho Espiga Branca Very Highly
Lusitano 1954 Portugal Mentana/Svalofs AH24H585 Moderately
Impeto 1955 Italy Very Highly
Autonomia 1955 Italy Moderately
Restauração 1955 Portugal Mentana/Svalofs AH24H585 Low
Tevere 1955 Ita ly low
Mara 1958 Italy Very Highly
Campodoro 1958 Italy Very Highly
Rural 1964 Portugal Ideal/Mentana Branco Moderately
Mucaba 1964 Highly
Chaimite 1967 Portugal Lusitano/SaitamaH27 Moderately
Da Maia 1968 Portugal Low
Etoile Choisy 1968 França Highly
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 27
varieties from the Italian wheat breeding program of Marco Michaelles were also
introduced, such as Campodoro, Autonomia, Impeto, Mara (table 7) and Nazareno
Strampelli (table 8), varieties obtained by Cyril Mariani. This germplasm was
widely used in artificial crosses or introduced into farming directly as varieties.
Table 8 ■ Origin, pedigree and success in terms of adoption by farmers of bread wheat
varieties released in Portugal during the period 1970-1979.
Var iety Ye ar of
release Origin Cross/pedigree
Siete Cerros 1970 CIMMYT Very Highly
Mexicano 1481 1970 Portugal Norin 10/Brevor//PJ14 Very Highly
Nazareno Strampelli 1970 Italy Highly
Barbela 1972 Portugal Moderately
Tarro 1974 Portugal Kharkov 5/Aix Low
Xevora 1975 Portugal Mucaba/Mexicano 1481 Highly
Anza 1977 CIMMYT Lerma Rojo 64//Norin 10/
Brevor/3/3*Andes Enano Very Highly
Green Revolution – Introduction of CIMMYT germplasm
In the early 1960s, the Portuguese wheat breeding community established a
program of cooperation with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT, Mexico), initiating the exchange of germplasm, including
segregating material and advanced lines, which were unceasingly included in
the national breeding program. In this phase, the selection of genotypes carrying
dwarfing genes from Norin 10 was also important.
This beginning of a new direction in wheat breeding took place with the intro-
duction of the line Norin10/Brevor//P-14, named Mexicano 1481 (table 8). This line
is a sister line of Pitic 62, germplasm produced by Norman Borlaug at CIMMYT
(Bagulho and Gonçalves, 1988). By the beginning of the 1970s this variety repre-
sented a significant advance in terms of novel useful germplasm, as it was well
adapted to the Mediterranean environment, with high yield potential, greater tole-
rance to lodging, and improved resistance to some of the stem and leaf rust races
prevalent in the major Portuguese wheat growing regions (Barradas and Bagulho,
1984; Barradas et al., 1996). Moreover, this variety was the first to be released
containing the two dwarfing genes Rht1 and Rht2 from Norin 10 (Villareal and
Rajaram, 1984). The release of this variety led Dr. Norman Borlaug, head of the
CIMMYT Wheat Program, to affirm how significant was the PBS research in Elvas
in the introduction of CIMMYT wheat germplasm to Europe (Barradas et al., 1996).
Concerning durum wheat, efforts were focused on using semi-dwarf material
with disease resistance and high yield potential from CIMMYT, and underta-
king introgression of useful traits from durum germplasm from other European
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28 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
regions, namely Italy and France. Good results were achieved with this approach
to combine yield stability with yield potential, allowing good adaptation to the
most favourable seasons.
From 1966 onwards, the cooperation with the wheat-breeding program of
CIMMYT was intensified, involving regular germplasm exchange, capacity
building, transfer of knowledge to breeders and other researchers, and the inte-
gration into CIMMYT’s global networks of germplasm testing. Since 1967, the
PBS was included in CIMMYT’s “International Spring Wheat Yield Nursery”
(ISWYN) international testing system. This collaboration, which brought the
possibility of broadening the genetic variability available, has enabled consi-
derable progress in the introduction and creation of new germplasm and the
selection of new wheat varieties, such as, Siete Cerros and Xevora, which satis-
fied important agronomic and quality-related goals, achieving wide acceptance
among farmers, industry and consumers (table 8, figure 17).
In 1968, through the ISWYN, Portugal received the line Lerma Rojo-64//
Norin 10/Brevor/3/3*Andes Enano that showed outstanding response to the
environmental conditions in southern Portugal. This line was registered as Anza
in the National Catalogue (table 8). This line had a growing cycle adjusted to
local climate, excellent performance in terms of straw firmness and plant height,
and good grain yield, kernel weight and test weight (table 9). In 1984 the variety
Anza occupied the highest percentage of area cultivated with bread wheat in
Portugal (Antunes and Bagulho, 1994) (figure 17).
Cocorit 71 was the first durum wheat variety selected in the cooperative
program with CIMMYT that received great interest by the Portuguese agri-
7071 727374 757677 7879 80 8182 83 8485 86 8788 899091 929394 959697 98
Figure 17 ■ Bread wheat varieties released in Portugal during the 1970s and corres-
ponding period in which they were preserved in the National Catalogue of Varieties of
Agricultural Plant Species.
Table 9 ■ Performance of the varieties Restauração, Mara and Anza in the period
from 1974 to 1985 at Elvas, Portugal (mean data).
Restauração Mara Anza
Yield (%) 100 +15 +42
Heading (days after sowing) 137 +3 0
Physiological maturity (days after sowing) 197 –2 0
Plant height (cm) 121 –30 –33
Lodging (1-9) 5 –2 –3
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 29
cultural sector. Other lines and varieties expressed promising performance,
and were distributed to farmers with good results. These materials were
selected from segregating populations or advanced lines sent by CIMMYT, or
selected from crosses made with Mexican germplasm at PBS (table 10).
Table 10 ■ Origin, pedigree and success in terms of adoption by farmers of bread
wheat varieties released in Portugal during the period 1980-1989.
Var iety Ye ar of
release Origin Cross/pedigree
Caia 1982 Portugal Azteca/Mucaba Highly
Marius 1982 France Moderately
Mira 1983 Portugal Yaqui 50 Enano/3*Kalyansona Moderately
Aranda 1983 France Moderately
Tejo 1984 Portu ga l 21931 /3/Chapi ngo 53/Andes//G ab o
56/4/Andes 64 Highly
Degebe 1984 Portugal UP301//Sonora 64/Pitic 62 Low
Ablaca 1984 Spain Low
Castan 1984 France Very Highly
Esqualo 1984 Spain Low
Forton 1984 Spain Low
Talent 1984 Fra nce Moderat ely
Alto 1985 France Low
Ardec 1985 Belgium Low
Basalt 1985 Deutschland Low
Echo 1985 Netherlands Low
Fidel 1985 France Low
Ten or 1985 Fr ance Ve ry Highly
Almansor 1986 Portugal E 4870/C 306//M 5392W666.5/3/
Bluebird/Correcaminos/INIA 66 Ver y High ly
Lima 1986 Portugal Kavkaz/Buho//Kalyansona/Bluebird Highly
Frandoc 1986 France Highly
Fruhgold 1986 Deutschland Low
Mondego 1987 Portugal Justin/2*Siete Cerros 66 Highly
Lodi 1987 France Very Highly
Tâmega 1988 Portugal Kavkaz/(SIB) Buho//Kalyansona/
Azulon 1988 Spain Low
Trida 1988 France Highly
D'Artagnan 1988 France Low
Strampelli 1989 Italy Low
Tua 1989 Portugal Bluebird/Ciano 67//INIA 66/Soty/3/
(SIB) Sparrow/4/(SIB) Pavon 76 Low
Centauro 1989 Italy Very Highly
Sevilhano 1989 Spain Low
Prinqual 1989 France Highly
Irnério 1989 Italy Low
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30 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
N.grains/m2 Test weight (kg/hl)
Days to heading
Plant Height (cm)
Portuguese and Italian germplasm CIMMYT based germplasm spring x winter germplasm
Figure 18 ■ Evolution of yield potential of old Portuguese wheat varieties until new
types were released in the 1990s.
Varieties derived from spring by winter wheat crosses
In the decade of the 1990s, wheat breeding started to focus on understan-
ding the physiological behaviour of plants with the goal of increasing yield. The
importance of eco-physiological and morphological traits in the genotype selec-
tion process increases as they are more related with genetic grain yield poten-
tial. At this time, there was a growing interest of farmers, in southern Portugal,
facing the soil and climate constraints of the Mediterranean environment, in
long-cycle wheat varieties that would allow earlier sowings, while avoiding
This understanding and the need for responding to farmers’ concerns led
PBS to implement crosses between winter wheat and spring wheat types in
its cereal breeding program, and to select lines with crop cycles adjusted to
earlier sowing. Lines with a longer crop cycle and heading at a convenient
time, but with a shorter grain-filling period were selected, leading to varieties
of a facultative type with yield increases due to gains in grains/m2 and harvest
index (figure 18). At this stage, new varieties were created with this alternative
growth cycle, well adapted to specific environments and providing more flexi-
bility in sowing time. These varieties included Amazonas, Jordão and Eufrates
(table 11), which were registered from 1994 to 1996. These varieties exceeded
Anza in most aspects, since the latter variety had become susceptible to the
wheat rusts and Septoria tritici. Also its technological quality features surpassed
Anza, while at this time the baking industry started to require flour with less
tenacity and more elasticity.
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 31
Table 11 ■ Origin, pedigree and success in terms of adoption by farmers of bread
wheat varieties released in Portugal during the period 1990-1999.
Var iety Ye ar of
release Year of
output Origin Cross/pedigree
Sorraia 1990 2005 Portugal S270/Calidad//
Tob ari 66/8157/3/Siete Ce rros//
Lancer 1990 2002 Netherlands Low
Passarinho 1990 2008 France Moderately
Pandas 1991 2008 Italy Highly
Arbon 1991 1993 France Low
Betres 1992 1998 Spain Moderately
Brio 1992 1997 Spain Low
Loreto 1992 1998 Italy Low
Alva 1993 present Portugal UR//Noroeste/Mara Low
Abental 1993 2001 France Moderately
Argueil 1993 2001 France Highly
Fiuza 1993 2003 France Low
Libero 1993 2003 France Low
Sideral 1993 2002 France Moderately
Amazonas 1994 2005 Portugal PF 70354/(SIB) Bobwhite Low
Tigre 1994 present França Low
Golia 1994 2000 Italy Highly
Arpão 1994 1995 France Low
Atir 1994 1999 Israel Low
Mercero 1994 2001 USA Low
Milfo 1994 2001 USA Low
Roxo 1995 present Portugal VS73.600/Mirlo/3/Bobwhite//
Yécora70/Trifon "S" Moderately
Torero 1995 present USA Moderately
Bonpain 1995 2000 France Moderately
Bufalo 1995 2004 France Moderately
Fitti 1995 2002 Netherlands Low
Archamp 1995 1997 France Low
Arold 1995 1998 France Low
Molineux 1995 1998 Australia Low
Oderzo 1995 2003 Italy Moderately
Sarina 1995 2002 Netherlands Low
Côa 1996 2005 Portugal Jupateco 73/Emu "S"//Grajo "S" Low
Eufrates 1996 present Portugal Texas71A1039aV1*3/Amigo Moderately
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32 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Progress in wheat genetic potential for yield
Since 1982, with the establishment of the National Catalogue of Varieties,
Portuguese public wheat breeding has been registering several new varieties,
responding to the increased competition among public and private, national and
international breeding companies, which was enhanced by the entry of Portugal
into the European Union.
The Wheat Breeding Program in Portugal has had several priorities, inclu-
ding yield potential, resistance to biotic stresses and adaptation to its Mediterra-
nean environment. Three phases mark the progress of genetic potential for yield
in Portugal’s wheat varieties (figure 19).
The path from the first to the second phase shows the importance of
the introduction of germplasm carrying Rht dwarfing genes and marks the
influence of the Green Revolution. At this stage the priority was to reduce the
height of the straw, whose genes also had positive pleiotropic effects on other
yield components, notably increased harvest index. It was very obvious at this
Table 11 ■ Origin, pedigree and success in terms of adoption by farmers of bread
wheat varieties released in Portugal during the period 1990-1999 (continued).
Var iety Ye ar of
release Year of
output Origin Cross/pedigree
Jordão 1996 present Portugal Texas73V203*3/Amigo Very Highly
Arpège 1996 present France Moderately
Arpain 1996 2007 France Low
Cortex 1996 2005 Spain Low
Guadalupe 1997 2008 France Highly
Pinzon 1997 2005 Spain Moderately
Podenco 1997 2005 Spain Moderately
Trapio 1997 2005 Spa in Low
Sever 1998 present Portugal Caia/Sunbird Highly
Dourado 1998 2010 USA Low
Regain 1998 2003 France Low
Areal 1999 2002 France Low
Arieiro 1999 2001 France Low
Armie 1999 2002 France Low
Greina 1999 2003 Switzerland Low
Idra 1999 2001 Italy Low
Orion 1999 2010 France Low
Sagittario 1999 2001 Italy Moderately
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 33
time that the selection pressure for tolerance to abiotic stresses, such as drought
resistance was crucial. Under drought conditions often the genetic yield poten-
tial is sacrificed to improved local adaptation, resulting in varieties that showed
no positive response to “good years” or irrigation.
Thus, from the 1990s onwards, the concept of analytical breeding began to
be introduced, where the aspects that influence yield potential and its expres-
sion deserve greater attention. This resulted in the introduction of new selection
criteria, which define the path from the second to the third phase in wheat bree-
ding (figure 19). Genotypes with high yield potential and input responsiveness
were selected, carrying alleles for resistance/tolerance to stress, but also able
to take advantage of irrigation or years with above-average favourable rain-
fall distribution. These new releases include such varieties as Nabão, Jordão
(table 11) and Ardila (table 12).
1950-1970 = 2,862 kg/ha
1970-1990 = 4,027 kg/ha
1990-2010 = 5,439 kg/ha
Figure 19 ■ Wheat yield potential over the last 60 years.
Table 12 ■ Origin, pedigree and success in terms of adoption by farmers of bread
wheat varieties released in Portugal from 2000 to present.
Var iety Ye ar of
release Year of
output Origin Cross/pedigree
Panifor 2000 2006 France Low
Perico 2000 2008 France Moderately
Nabão 2003 present Portugal PF 70354/Yaco"s" Very Highly
Ardila 2003 present Portugal Chat"S"/Flycatcher"S" Highly
Gandhi 2003 2008 France Low
Cielo 2004 2010 Spain Low
Barbelinha 2005 present Portugal Low
TE0205 2013 present Portugal Chilero/Buckbuck –
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34 Wheat Breeding: Country perspectives
Traditionally, the wheat breeding program was more focused on selection of
wheat genotypes for rainfed conditions, where yield stability is the most impor-
tant attribute to face environmental variability. With the increased availability of
irrigation, farmers started to demand varieties with higher yield potential, which
are in some cases not well correlated with yield stability traits.
Applied research has been conducted to understand the environmental
constraints and potentialities of wheat production systems in Portugal and a
clear focus has been identified.
The present main goals of the Cereals Breeding Program are high grain
yield, through the development of spring/facultative type germplasm with:
– high genetic yield potential (sown in the fall); adaptation to environmental
constraints (i.e. climate change);
– rapid grain filling period and longer stay green (tolerance to terminal heat
– yield stability;
– tolerance to drought stress, waterlogging and Zn deficiency;
– resistance to the main biotic stresses, such as the foliar diseases (Septoria
tritici), soil-borne diseases and pests;
– end-use quality, including protein content and quality, gluten strength, test
weight, dough properties, nutritional quality (zinc and iron bio-fortification).
Development of germplasm in order to obtain wheat varieties capable to produce
grain with a greater ability to accumulate zinc;
– pre-breeding, in terms of looking for useful sources of variation to be
explored by breeders in order to address actual constraints and to face the
concerns imposed by the climate change scenarios.
A novel approach is being introduced and studied at INIAV (Elvas). As a
staple food, wheat is an obvious candidate for bio-fortification strategies that
help to enhance the zinc, iron and other important nutrients relevant to signifi-
cant parts of the population. According to the recent data obtained by the Portu-
guese team dealing with the supplementation/bio-fortification issue, the utiliza-
tion of well-adapted wheat varieties enriched in Zn and Fe can be an effective
way to improve the status of those micronutrients. Results obtained in the 2010-
2012 seasons (Coronado-Romero, 2012) indicated that it is possible to increase
grain Zn concentration, from 30 mg.Zn.Kg
-1 by more than double, by Zn soil
application and/or foliar spraying. Different genetic responses were found for
accumulation rates in wheat grain in bread wheat varieties, already in the Portu-
guese National Catalogue (Roxo, Ardila), or in new wheat advanced lines.
Regarding crop management, a better comprehension of how yield increase
can be achieved under irrigation is being studied in order to reach a fine-tuning
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The History of Wheat Breeding in Portugal 35
approach of all agronomic practices, as they interact with plant genetics. The
aim is to improve the water use efficiency and nutrient use efficiency that can be
translated into high yields with higher harvest indices.
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