On the same day U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) – the wheat industry’s key market development and promotion organization – ushered in another year of support for the world’s largest crop, Syngenta presented the organization with its vision for bringing wheat into the next generation.
Norm Dreger, head of North American cereals for Syngenta, was one of three industry speakers invited to present at the USW’s annual meeting, held June 29 to July 1 in Rapid City, S.D.
“With almost a century of experience in the North American wheat industry, the commitment of Syngenta to this all-important crop has never been stronger,” Dreger said. “Wheat has so many end uses, and it is absolutely critical for world food security. With that level of responsibility comes unique challenges, and we are dedicated to working across the industry to overcome them.”
Decades of breeding
One ongoing challenge is the time it takes to breed new wheat varieties, as it can take as much as a dozen years from first cross to commercial release. Syngenta has been breeding wheat since the 1920s – almost 100 years ago – at which time selection was done purely by eye, and removing unwanted characteristics took many crop generations.
Today, the company’s applied biotechnology techniques such as doubled haploids and genetic markers help identify traits at the seedling stage, leading to better combinations of native traits and a shorter breeding cycle from first cross to commercial release.
“This is just one example of how Sygnenta is dedicated to transforming wheat production worldwide,” Dreger said. “On a global level, we make a significant investment in research and development each year dedicated solely to cereals.”
To ensure wheat is being bred to meet the evolving needs of millers and bakers, Syngenta operates a wheat quality lab that pinpoints and tests end-use quality traits of each experimental line. Conducting more than 32,000 tests a year, researchers examine factors key to end use such as protein level, hardness and water absorption. In 2012, the company’s nine regional breeding locations across North America generated more than 8,000 lines of wheat that passed through the lab.
As a result, each year Syngenta releases new varieties to meet specific areas’ latest needs. This includes varieties such as AgriPro® brand SY Ovation, the first commercially available wheat variety for the Pacific Northwest developed using advanced doubled haploid technology. One year after introduction, SY Ovation was the top-planted winter wheat in Idaho for the 2012-13 season.1
Syngenta continues to make tangible advancements in wheat transformation. The primary challenge is in producing crops that offer a strong balance of yield and quality.
“With wheat, an increase in the crop’s yield potential often means a drop in protein, and vice versa,” Dreger explained. “Syngenta therefore takes a ‘YQ’ approach – not just thinking about only yield or only quality, but yield and quality.”
One technology with strong potential is hybrid wheat, which the company is on track to deliver by 2020. The successful development and release of Syngenta hybrid barley in Europe is informing this innovation, which is expected to bring yield stability, a lower carbon footprint, improved water- and nutrient-use traits, and enhanced disease tolerance.
‘A team effort’
Syngenta is aware that to breed wheat lines and develop technologies that meet specific needs, it has to firmly grasp those needs. That’s why the company is closely involved in the industry, partnering and collaborating with growers, breeders, millers, associations and other key stakeholders.
That includes the USW. The export market development organization for the wheat industry, it is funded by producer checkoff dollars from 19 state wheat commission members and through cost-share funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
“With population and incomes rising, the global demand for wheat is growing – especially for wheat with the highest quality milling and baking characteristics,” said Dan Hughes, USW chairman and a wheat farmer in Venango, Neb. “We need innovation in new wheat varieties to stay competitive in those overseas markets. And we have seen for ourselves that Syngenta is committed to helping us grow more and better wheat with less impact on the environment.”
Syngenta also supports several innovative industry programs. For example, it is sponsoring the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center “Speak for Wheat” Test Kitchen, a high-tech space that will provide facilities for testing hundreds of new and existing wheat recipes developed by the Kansas Wheat Commission to promote increased usage of wheat.
Seeking to further strengthen understanding across all sides of the wheat industry, Syngenta hosted a Wheat Quality Summit earlier this year. The event, which brought together dozens of millers, growers and industry stakeholders, aimed to better define wheat quality needs and promote communication between the groups.
“The future of wheat is a team effort,” Dreger said. “As long as we and everyone else remain committed to collaboration and communication, we can help realize wheat’s full potential. Syngenta is proud to play a role in this important endeavor.”