“The train is out of the station,” as Monsanto brings the idea of genetically modified wheat technology to the world market for a second time. Now focusing on DNA traits such as resistance to drought, disease and nitrogen deficiency, Monsanto hopes for more of a welcoming reception than the first time around.
However, Monsanto is not alone in developing new wheat varieties – all the major plant breeding companies have launched wheat breeding programs in the last two years.
Sean Gardner, Monsanto Global Wheat Lead, explained the advantages of biotechnology and what’s in store for wheat in the future to attendees at the FarmTech 2011 conference held in Edmonton earlier this year.
With about 500 million dedicated acres across the globe, wheat is the world’s largest crop. However, the income from wheat is lower than the crops benefiting from genetically modified technology such as corn, soybeans and cotton. Based on the acceptance of GM technology in those crops, there is good reason to believe that the same will apply to wheat.
“We can take what we have learned in corn breeding and apply it to wheat,” says Gardner.
However, Monsanto does not intend to bring Roundup Ready wheat as a standalone product; instead the crop DNA will have a mixture of traits such as drought resistance that will result in higher yields. As a result, the genetically modified wheat will increase crop yields up to 10 to 15 per cent.
Because Monsanto is in the early stages of development, field trials aren’t expected to begin for the next couple of years. It will be at least 13 to 15 years until genetically modified wheat will be on the market.
For the short-term, Monsanto’s focus will be on breeding technology, which has power to drive for higher yield production. The development of combining biotechnology traits such as drought, disease and herbicide resistance is Monsanto’s long-term goal.
Growers in the United States have expressed more interest in this idea compared to Canadian growers but Gardner hopes to that with more cooperation from the Canadian Wheat Board, that attitude will change.
What do you think about genetically modified wheat?
Haleigh Packer is a practicum student in AdFarm’s Calgary office. You can follow her on Twitter @HHKPacker.