One common thread throughout a recent summit attended by millers, growers and wheat industry stakeholders was that few people share the same definition for quality. Different uses for wheat lead to different expectations and measurements for quality.
"There are so many subtleties, said Rollie Sears, senior research fellow for Syngenta. "One mill and one baker might think a line is really, really good while another mill or baker might think it's not very good at all.
That's why Syngenta operates a wheat quality lab that pinpoints and tests the end-use quality traits of each wheat line being developed by the company. Located in Berthoud, Colo., the lab runs more than 32,000 tests a year that considers factors such as protein level, kernel weight, hardness and water absorption. Using flour milled on site from each wheat line, a baking lab gauges the texture, color, volume and other characteristics of bread and cookies.
In 2012 alone, the lab tested more than 8,000 lines of wheat.
"These quality tests – conducted at various stages in the breeding process help determine whether a wheat line shows end-use potential and should continue on down the breeding path, said Cathy Butti, Syngenta wheat quality lab manager. "This is so important for a breeding company, as it can be very difficult to know what to throw out or keep because of the wide range of varieties and needs.
To rewrite an old phrase: Quality is in the eye of the beholder. This was apparent during the Syngenta Wheat Quality Summit in Colorado, where the company discussed this elusive characteristic with several dozen millers, growers and industry stakeholders.
Syngenta sought to better understand what millers need, as well as share information about the company's breeding capabilities and grower needs.
"Protein, quality, yield, sustainability, disease management, strength – these are just a few of the many factors at play when breeding new wheat varieties, said Sears. "Considering it can take more than a decade from first cross to commercialization, it is extremely important that the wheat being developed is the wheat that the industry desires.
Yield and quality
Sears said Syngenta takes a "YQ approach toward breeding viewing yield potential and quality as equally important to address needs of both growers and millers.
Chris Tallman, a Colorado grower and former president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, shed light on grower needs.
"We're not necessarily getting paid for quality we're getting paid for yield, Tallman said. "It's great to see the investment and commitment to wheat because we want a marketable crop. But we also need one that is profitable to grow.
One of the core challenges to breeding is that protein levels and yield potential often run counter to each other. When protein levels are high, yield potential ends up lower and vice versa.
"It's a tough balancing act, as not all genes are created equal, Sears explained. "We will not release a variety that doesn't have at least average quality performance, so what we are doing now is looking at how certain lines respond to certain crop protection chemistries that may enhance yield or quality for growers.
"We likely will start seeing certain varieties that will have specific crop protection product and management recommendations, he added.
Links in the chain
Syngenta is well-equipped to link the needs of an end user to growers, as is evidenced in several programs it has developed in the U.S. and overseas.
Simon Phillips, Syngenta North American business development manager for cereals genetics, attributed much of the success with these programs to collaborative relationships based on open, constructive dialogue.
"In Italy, we developed a program so growers could profitably grow high-quality durum and become a reliable source of more of the country's durum, Phillips said. "We've used similar concepts in our hybrid barley program in Europe and for a sustainable production program in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
With the company's significant global investment in research and development (R&D) dedicated solely to cereals, Syngenta is poised to bridge the gap between grower and end user needs.
"At Syngenta, we are strongly committed to transforming cereals production worldwide, said Norm Dreger, head of North American cereals for Syngenta. "This transformation, however, won't come about as the result of one group's work – it'll be a team effort. We're all links in the value chain, so we really need to stack hands and agree on priorities.
In addition to its R&D focus, Syngenta supports a number of 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.
"Through partnerships built on commitment, collaboration and communication, we can help realize wheat's full potential, Dreger said. "Together, everyone from the breeder to the grower to the miller to the baker to the consumer will benefit.
For more information, visit http://www.cereals.farmassist.com/.