Corn hybrid company takes fresh look at wheat

Seed multinational Pioneer, the company that commercialised hybrid corn nearly a century ago, announced earlier this year it hopes to perform its magic on wheat.

Pioneer’s communications manager, Jozsef Mate, told The Southern: “Pioneer added hybrid wheat technology to its research pipeline earlier this year. Our goal is to improve the hybrid production process for wheat with potential for global application.

He explained: “As population increases, it is critical to find ways to increase productivity of staple crops like wheat. Hybridization has the potential to create a step-change improvement in productivity and quality of wheat for the world’s ­farmers.”

He said the plant genetics company expected the first traits to be developed within 10 to 15 years.

Meanwhile, Switzerland-based rivals Syngenta’s AgriPro unit is three years into its hybrid wheat project in Kansas with the aim of having a new wheat available to farmers by the end of the decade.

Berwickshire NFU branch chairman Neil White of Greenknowe Farm, Swinton, Duns, who is a member of the union’s regional board and national combinable crops committee, welcomed the moves.

He said previous experiments by farmers growing hybrid wheat had been disappointing: “They had admittedly only small areas planted, but felt it was only on a par with other varieties of the time.”

He continued: “A fresh look at hybrid wheat can only be a good thing. We are faced with the dilemma of growing more from less, less inputs (sprays, fertiliser, fuel) and also less hectares as the greening aspect of CAP reform looks like forcing 5-10 percent of our land to be set aside for environmental reasons.

“Wheat yields in the UK have plateaued and growers are looking to plant breeders to find the high yielding or more elusive nitrogen fixing, drought resistant or more relevant flood resilient 
wheat that can reduce the risk and cost of growing a profitable wheat crop. In Scotland we will have to 
look closely at all possibilities.

“Our government’s stance on genetically modified (GM) crops is a firm ‘no’ so we have to look at all the alternatives that could help us grow higher yielding crops.

He added: “NFU Scotland has backed and encouraged research and development investment in Scotland and the HGCA [the cereals and oilseeds research and marketing division of the independent farmer-funded Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board].

“College trials along with plant breeders’ own trials are a great source of information to farmers, helping us make informed growing decisions for the years ahead.”