Issue 58
Prairie Grains

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Prairie Grains is the official publication of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, North Dakota Grain Growers Association, Montana Grain Growers Association and South Dakota Wheat, Inc.

Copyright Prairie Grains Magazine
February 2004

“New Wheat Technologies” Update at NDGGA Conference:

When will Clearfield, Roundup- Ready Wheat be Released?

When will Roundup-Ready wheat be released? That seems to be a common question for the product’s manufacturer these days, as it was in a discussion on new wheat technologies at the recent North Dakota Grain Growers Small Grains Conference in Bismarck.  

However, Monsanto representative Danny Gigax said that the company is not adhering to a timetable but rather a six-step process or set of “commitments” before considering the commercial release of RR wheat. Gigax outlined the steps as:

1. Regulatory approvals in the U.S., Canada, and Japan; 

2. Agreements with major export markets;

3. A grain handling system with sampling and reasonable thresholds;

4. Agronomic stewardship programs;

5. Varieties that meet or exceed industry standards;

6. Buyers willing to accept wheat with biotech ingredients. 

Gigax said that Monsanto is at the sixth step, and working closely with international and domestic buyers to establish market acceptance.  He stresses that even if all these steps are met, releasing RR wheat is still not a given.

Regarding the issue of thresholds for genetically modified wheat in the grain channel, Gigax believes the level may depend on what levels are accepted in Europe.  “I think 1% is reasonable,” he said. 

Addressing the issue of pollen drift and genetic outcrossing, Gigax pointed to a five-year study which found less than 1% outcrossing between varieties at a distance of one foot, and that outcrossing decreases even more substantially at more than one foot.

Syngenta is also developing biotech wheat. The company also sponsors news updates on biotech issues relating to agriculture online at www. checkbiotech.org.  Rex Wichert, cereal strategies manager for Syngenta, says the company had its first field trails in 2003 for its genetically-engineered scab tolerant wheat lines.

Wichert, who also spoke at the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers’ Prairie Grains Conference, said that the mapping of the rice genome in recent years was a major hurdle in advancing this research. Given the similarity of the genome of cereal grains, the mapping of the rice genome was a significant step for research advances for all cereals.

In addition to increased grain yields, Wichert felt improved grain quality and food safety are possible with the Fusarium tolerance trait.  This type of biotechnology trait, he said, “has more appeal to European regulation.”  Like Gigax, Wichert said a timeline for possible entry to the market will be difficult to establish. Wichert was cautious in his remarks to growers but is very hopeful that they can develop wheat with increased ability to withstand fungal attack from fusarium hopefully within this decade.

Gigax and Wichert pointed to other biotech wheat traits in the development process, with consumer and grower benefits like vitamins, proteins, greater resistance to plant stress such as drought, and increased grain yields.

Clearfield spring wheat
Limited seed of a Clearfield-tolerant spring wheat variety will be available in 2004, with certified seed being available to growers for the 2005 production season, according to David Boehm, of AgriPro Wheat.

“The first Clearfield variety will be marketed in northwest North Dakota and eastern Montana,” said Boehm.  “A more broadly adapted Clearfield variety will be available to growers in all hard red spring wheat areas for the 2006 season.”  Boehm said both varieties have two genes for tolerance and show excellent crop safety to imazamox herbicide, sold as Beyond in wheat and Pursuit and Raptor in soybeans and edible beans. Beyond herbicide targets grass weeds such as cheatgrass, wild oats, foxtails, and jointed goatgrass, weeds which are more often problems in western areas under no-till production.

An advantage to the Clearfield technology is its non-GMO status, Boehm said, pointing out that Australian Clearfield varieties are already being purchased by the Japanese markets.

“Clearfield winter wheats have been successful in the central U.S. under no-till management for the past two growing seasons,” he said, adding that about 100,000 acres of Clearfield winter wheat was grown in the central plains states in 2003.

Ron Ueland said WestBred, another private wheat breeding company, is also developing Clearfield wheat varieties that may be available in 2006. 

GM straw could increase livestock production
Plant scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel say that grain straw could increase animal production by at least one third if its lignin content is decreased through genetic modification. This process would make straw more digestible, and also increase the carbohydrate available to ruminant animals.

Researcher Jonathan Gressel says that if straw can be converted into hay-quality material using a combination of biotechnology, physical and chemical treatments, this roughage could be given more ecological and economic importance. Ammonification, which separates lignin and serve as a nitrogen source for ruminant bacteria, and biotreatment with ligninolytic fungi are the technologies that can be used for upgrading.

This technology, according to the researchers, could increase cattle, goat, and sheep production by at least 25%. U.S. and Europe could produce another 200 million cattle per year (35% increase); Asia 250 million more cattle (50% increase); Africa 170 million more goats per year, or 500 million goats if its current grain yields were tripled to match the global average; and Australia could produce 30 million more sheep (25% increase). 

Source: Crop Biotech Net, www.isaaa.org/kc/