The nation's leading wheat-grower organizations have adopted policy that advocates cooperation between land-grant universities and private companies in order to develop improved wheat varieties. The policy, called "Principles of Collaboration in Wheat Breeding and Biotechnology," gives state wheat commissions, wheat breeders and land-grant universities with public wheat breeding programs guidelines to follow when developing collaborations and agreements with private industry.
The Principles of Collaboration were adopted by U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) during the groups' winter meetings. In the last year, several agriculture technology firms have announced plans to enter the wheat variety development business. These firms could incorporate non-biotech molecular technologies to improve wheat variety development; these technologies have already been proven successful in corn and soybean breeding programs.
Eventually, this private investment will lead to a wide array of improved wheat varieties that could eventually feature biotech traits. U.S. Wheat and NAWG have publicly supported the development of biotech wheat for several years in order to meet growing demand for wheat around the world.
"For too long, wheat has failed to capitalize on private investment into wheat variety development,” says Joe Kejr, past chairman of the NAWG/U.S. Wheat Joint Biotech Committee and a farmer near Brookville, KS. “Meanwhile, competing crops have made huge strides in yield, agronomic traits and end-use efficiency.
“The wheat industry has worked together on these Principles of Collaboration, which establish a protocol by which private investment in wheat will proceed. In the end, these collaborations will lead to a host of new wheat varieties for wheat farmers, giving them additional options to find varieties that suit their agronomic and geographic needs."
A key component to giving growers more options is to allow private companies access to the vast library of publicly held germplasm at land-grant universities. In turn, private industry can offer new access to advanced, high-volume breeding technologies to the public universities, adds Justin Gilpin, Kansas Wheat CEO.
Private investment into wheat variety research will be vital to feed the world's population in coming years, says David Baltensperger, who sits on the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University and is head of the university’s Department of Crops and Soils at the University. Wheat is the world's most widely consumed grain and, with the lack of investment in wheat technology combined with dwindling natural resources, the world's wheat farmers will not be able to grow enough wheat to meet demand, he says.
"We see an ever-increasing, higher protein portion of the diet for more people, which will take more grains. We are looking at very large demand to meet the same caloric intake in the future as what we have today," says Baltensperger. "Worldwide, we need to expand production of wheat. It will take new traits and new technologies to do that."