Why is Everyone Interested in Wheat Breeding?

As I have noted before on this site, this summer has been very interesting in terms of the changing landscape in wheat research and breeding. Monsanto, Bayer, and Syngenta are all engaged in the wheat breeding game. I have received, many emails from readers, asking the same question.

“What will this mean for my farm in the future?”

This is a great question. One can only speculate at this point but from a genetics standpoint it does really provide some interesting potential outcomes. Higher yields and lower environmental impacts are the most discussed by breeders and stakeholders. The other side of this discussion is the questions around saved seed and the possibilities of technology use agreements. In my mind if the product has benefits to the farmer, the farmer will pay for the technology. If there is no advantage then the farmer will not pay. This is simple economics and applicable in any market segment and not just agriculture. I think that it is silly for people to suggest that farmers are forced to buy hybrid seed. In my experience, farmers that have the right land and environmental conditions, demand hybrid seed. If you don’t have the proper land or conditions use choose other options.

The following video was produced by Monsanto but shows why wheat is such an important crop to farmers and seed companies.

The reality is that the future really is wide open for global wheat production. With large biotech companies now engaged the next ten years will prove to be interesting at the very least. On top of this is the huge contribution that conventional breeders will provide. Wheat is the global staple crop. There is a wheat harvest happening every month of the year somewhere in the world.

The following video with Jay Bradshaw, President of Syngenta Canada discusses why biotech wheat will have benefits and why the variety registration system is too slow to enable innovation. It was filmed in February 2009.

Please let me know what you think about the future of wheat. What kind of improvements would you like to see in wheat vareties?

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun grew up on a family seed farm in Southern Alberta. Haney Farms produces, conditions and retails wheat, barley, canola and corn seed. Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. @shaunhaney

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5 Comments

Manny

Whether it comes through conventional breeding or biotech breeding we need to have fusarium free vareties.

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Anonymous

I strongly urge Canadian farmers go GM-free. There has been little independent study on the safety of GM foods and what there has been is not positive. I'm completely appalled that our governments have allowed these corporations to experiment on the health of the people of the world. Personally, I now refuse to buy products that contain soy, canola, corn or sugar (since Lantic/Rogers went GM). I would have no problem adding wheat to that list. There is a strongly-growing anti-GM movement and farmers had better think very carefully before committing to something that is irreversible and will affect so many millions of lives.

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Andy

What will the anti-GM guys do when someone develops N fixing wheat or corn that will reduce synthetic fertilizer use by a large percentage? Which ‘evil’ do they support then -one leading to climate change or a dangerous food supply???

The question of what traits should be in wheat is intriguing. Short term, I would like to see stronger, shorter straw, higher protein, more sawfly resistant varieties. Longer term, the capability to fix atmospheric N, and more developed root systems for increased nutrient uptake and drought tolerance.

The interesting thing is that Syngenta has a fusarium resistant wheat on the shelf but cannot market it because it is GM. Maybe we need a good (and I mean real) food shortage caused by fusarium or UG99 for people to realize that what has been done in decades of breeding in the past can be completed in a few short years in the lab.

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Shaun Haney

Its a great comment Andy. GMO wheat is not about round up ready. It is about end use traits. How do you argue against a trait that allows us to grow corn with less water.

Reply
Andy

Thought of another one -Perennial wheat. It is starting to look like it will take nearly 1/2 a century to breed either an annual wheat into a perennial wheat plant, or a wheatgrass plant into a wheatgrass with decent milling quality. With GM, how many decades could be cut off this process, and the yield drop common with perennial plants could probably be eliminated.

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