Wheat is the most widely grown crop and one of the world's most important staple foods. In order to develop new, high-quality wheat varieties against the backdrop of a growing world population, Bayer CropScience has opened a new European Wheat Breeding Center in Gatersleben, in the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany. Work has begun in greenhouses and laboratories on an approximately 1,400 m2 facility at the Biotechpark Gatersleben Infrastruktur GmbH site. As well as developing wheat varieties with higher yields and enhanced properties for the central European market, the 40 employees in Gatersleben will also coordinate all of Bayer's wheat-breeding activities in Europe. Bayer invests some EUR 720 million worldwide in the research and development of crop protection agents and seeds every year. It is planned to increase this budget to approximately EUR 850 million by 2015.
"The inauguration of the European Wheat Breeding Center is another important milestone for our activities in the area of seeds and traits," said Professor Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, member of the Bayer AG Board of Management responsible for Innovation, Technology and Sustainability, at the opening ceremony. "It is an enormous challenge for scientists all over the world to safeguard and improve the global food supply. As a scientific company, we at Bayer want to make our contribution towards achieving this goal, in line with our mission 'Science For A Better Life'," said Plischke in his opening address. As the amount of land available for agricultural use cannot be enlarged, it will be essential in the future to use all available methods to achieve substantially larger harvests. Molecular breeding could be particularly helpful to deliver new solutions, added Plischke.
As Saxony-Anhalt's Minister for Science and Economy Professor Birgitta Wolff explained, "The opening of the European Wheat Breeding Center in Gatersleben is a clear signal of Bayer AG's commitment to Saxony-Anhalt as a center for biotechnology, and is reinforced by Bayer's decision to coordinate its entire wheat-breeding activities from Gatersleben in the future. We have a classic win/win situation here: the Biotechpark Gatersleben offers the ideal infrastructure for Bayer, while the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Research will benefit from the new Wheat Breeding Center with an intensive exchange of personnel."
Wheat is the world's oldest and most widely grown crop
About 25 percent of the world's arable land is planted with wheat, making it the most widely grown crop and one of the world's most important staple foods. Wheat ranks second behind corn in terms of cereals production, with more than 650 million tons grown yearly. Wheat productivity is growing at a rate of less than one percent annually, while the global demand is increasing twice as fast. The main wheat-producing regions are the EU, China, North America, Russia and Australia.
Bayer is the global market and innovation leader in crop protection products for cereals and is pursuing long-term investment in sustainable cereals production. Thanks to its presence in all relevant markets and countries and as a result of the constant introduction of new products for agriculture, the company occupies an outstanding position in the crop protection market for wheat. Moreover, Bayer CropScience aims to establish a globally leading wheat seed business based on a broad pool of breeding material and local varieties and focusing on outstanding agronomic properties.
From Gatersleben: Coordination of wheat breeding
Elmar Weissmann, Ph.D., head of the European Wheat Breeding Center, describes the facility's work as follows: "We are taking over the coordination of the entire wheat-breeding activities in Europe and the networking with our breeding stations for other growing regions of the world. Important research targets are increasing yields and promoting efficient nutrient use, for example nitrogen and phosphorus uptake. But the work involved in adapting wheat varieties to climate factors such as drought or heat is also presenting us with challenges." The breeders are also looking for new varieties that are more resistant to fungal infections and which can increase the quality of the harvested produce. One important criterion is the protein content.
The technologies being used comprise the entire spectrum of state-of-the-art methodology, including marker-assisted breeding to accelerate the implementation of the declared breeding objectives. The Gatersleben site is particularly suitable for this work thanks to its good infrastructure, soil conditions and climate. Another regional breeding station for wheat is currently being built near Lincoln in the U.S. state of Nebraska. Other local stations are planned in Europe and Australia as well as, in the medium term, in Asia and Latin America. In addition, a network of alliances with leading international research institutions is currently being set up to put the latest procedures in biotechnology into practice and thus accelerate the rate of breeding progress. Bayer's most important wheat-breeding center is located in Ghent (Belgium). The introduction of the first wheat varieties is not anticipated before 2015.
Gatersleben near Quedlinburg in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, is one of the most internationally important research centers for crop plants. The Biotechpark is part of a biotechnology initiative launched by the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It shares a campus with the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research.