Late last month, BASF announced it was abandoning its hybrid wheat development program for North America, but continuing the breeding program for Europe.
Garth Hodges, vice president of North American seed business for BASF, has worked with the hybrid wheat program from the very beginning.
“I actually was the one that started with a small team actually to acquire all that wheat germ plasm, and put the whole story together, but I think as we got closer and closer to where we want it to be, we kind of realized that it was actually moving further and further away from us,” Hodges says.
Hodges says that in setting out to develop hybrid wheat for North America, they knew they were dealing with modest yield potential to begin with. In developing new lines, Hodges says that the big yield jumps eluded them, and seed production was challenging and expensive. (more below)
The program saw some success, he says. They did achieve some yield gains and did achieve a hybridization system that worked, but commercially-viable seed production was a challenge. Nature, Hodges says, has done an incredible job creating a very efficient wheat pollination system, a system that’s hard to improve on.
“We didn’t go into this with our eyes closed. We knew of the challenges, and we focused on those challenge… I think we put together just an incredible team of scientists, passionate people, and really that’s the heartbreaking part when you think about what all of those individuals, those teams did over the years to try to crack this,” Hodges says.
The BASF hybrid wheat program will continue in Europe, where base yields are higher and yield increases are significant enough to be economically viable, he says.
It’s still too early to say, Hodges adds, on what will happen to the germplasm, assets, and breeding centres, including the one located just outside of Saskatoon, Sask.