The U.S. wheat industry needs a range of biotechnology advancements to stay competitive, according to industry officials, adding they would urge the launch of some type of biotech wheat before the decade's end.

"The hope and promise of biotechnology is so compelling and the faster we can do it, the better off we'll be," said National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) Vice President Sherman Reese. Reese and other wheat industry leaders were attending the North American Grain Conference, which runs through Tuesday in Reno.

The U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets American wheat to foreign buyers, on Sunday voted to approve a plan aimed at promoting the safety and benefits of biotech wheat. That came amid contentious debate and after years of warnings by U.S. Wheat staffers that exports would decline if biotech was adopted.

Under the promotional plan, wheat leaders would hold educational seminars, develop country-specific promotional programs, set up safety and quality demonstrations, and guide development of segregation systems, among other moves.

The fresh commitment to advancing biotechnology comes less than a year after the wheat industry saw a potential biotech breakthrough scuttled when Monsanto Co. shelved its plans to roll out a herbicide-resistant wheat, which would have been the world's first genetically modified wheat.

That setback, and the mixed messages sent by the wheat industry, have caused other research groups to hesitate to pursue biotech advancements in wheat, a situation that endangers the future for American growers, U.S. wheat leaders said on Sunday.

Stiff competition by other wheat-growing countries, advancements in alternative crops and weak commodities prices are squeezing profit margins and driving farmers out of the wheat business, many growers said.

"Biotech is critical for the future of the wheat industry," said NAWG Chief Executive Officer Daren Coppock. "We have a limited amount of time to get this thing turned around."

Syngenta AG has a disease-resistant spring wheat in research and has said it hopes to bring a product to market within the next five years. But after Monsanto's retreat, Syngenta has declined to talk publicly about its project.

There are numerous other biotech advancements in wheat in the works, including drought-tolerant and insect-resistant traits. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture's agricultural research service has technology in the works that would keep DNA alterations confined to non-food parts of plants, which could reduce consumer concerns.

Source: Yahoo News