GM varieties on agenda in wheat development deal

Canada’s wheat growers are expected to be among the main beneficiaries of a partnership agreement between a major non-profit wheat developer and seed and chemical firm Syngenta.

Not all Canadian wheat growers are likely to see it that way immediately, however, as the agreement between Syngenta and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) focuses on “the development and advancement of technology in wheat, including genetically modified (GM) wheat.”

The development deal is expected to leverage Swiss-based Syngenta’s genetic marker technology, “advanced traits” platform and wheat breeding “for the developed world.”

CIMMYT, meanwhile, is expected to bring to the table its “access to wheat genetic diversity, global partnership network and wheat breeding program targeted to the developing world.”

The wheat centre, based near Mexico City, is an internationally funded not-for-profit body running research and training related to maize and wheat breeding and production systems in more than 100 countries.

Its agreement with Syngenta is to involve “joint research and development in the areas of native and GM traits, hybrid wheat and the combination of seeds and crop protection to accelerate plant yield performance.”

John Atkin, chief operating officer for Syngenta’s crop protection business, said in the company’s release Tuesday that the two partners are committed to “transforming wheat production worldwide, by creating new technology platforms which set unprecedented standards for yield and quality.”

Wheat production worldwide currently is increasing at only 0.9 per cent per year, Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program, said in the release. “This is a very critical issue as global demand is growing at 1.5 per cent or more annually.”

Market acceptance

Joachim-Braun, a German scientist based at CIMMYT in Mexico, said that with climate change in mind, “we must avoid the risk of another food crisis and ensure farmers across the world are equipped to meet the demands of a rising world population.

“Partnerships like this can greatly benefit the world’s farmers, rich and poor.”

And as “one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of wheat,” Canada stands to benefit from “any new technology developed through this partnership,” Syngenta said.

A handful of grower groups in Canada and other countries contend it’s time for developers to move forward and use GM technology, pointing to “the need for the synchronized introduction of biotech wheat.”

But citing the loss of canola markets as an example, other ag groups have long warned that to move forward on GM wheat without widespread market acceptance, such as in the GM-shy European Union, would jeopardize several key export markets.

On that point, Syngenta’s Atkin said in a video on the company’s website that any GM wheat traits developed in the partnership’s work won’t be introduced unless there is broad acceptance among wheat consumers.

Syngenta, he said, is also looking at finding the right way to communicate the technology and its benefits to the world at large.

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