When, in the late 1960s, the first CIMMYT varieties were received by Italian durum wheat breeders, the latter were engaged in an effort to remould an ancient species into a modern crop which could benefit from the adoption of modern agrotechnologies. The existing varieties were tall, prone to lodging and mostly disease susceptible (although characterized by good grain quality), and could not be grown on good, fertile soils with adequate moisture supply. Cultivation of durum was, therefore, mostly confined to southern and insular regions, with some enclaves in the central regions.
The CIMMYT (and, later, ICARDA) wheats could be utilized as sources of desirable characteristics such as: short culm and lodging resistance, disease resistance, day length insensitivity, and others. To be sure, Italian bread wheat breeders had already, in the 1920s, imported and utilized in their programmes Japanese short straw lines and were able to release short, lodging resistant varieties. However, the transfer of short-straw genes from bread to durum wheats that was attempted in the 1970s was hindered by several problems and was never really successful.
It is difficult to tell whether the gain of1.4 t ha~1 in productivity shown by varieties derived from the utilization of imported germplasm is to be attributed solely to the acquisition of short culm and lodging resistance and the consequent ability to exploit richer agronomic environments. A closer examination, however, reveals that other progressive characteristics were inherited by modern varieties from their exotic ancestors, e.g. short, erect leaves, a better culm structure, a more favourable harvest index, a higher level of disease resistance.
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