Monsanto announced this week that it has acquired WestBred, a Bozeman, Mont.-based company with extensive wheat germplasm assets, and will restart the process of eventually bringing biotech capabilities to the wheat market.
The acquisition will allow conventional and marker-assisted breeding in wheat to begin immediately, setting the stage for the development of biotech traits. Monsanto said it plans to initially focus biotechnology work on drought tolerance, nitrogen use and higher yield gains, with expected release in eight to 10 years, consistent with the company’s development cycle. The company said it will explore herbicide-tolerant and disease-resistant biotech traits, but does not plan to include its Roundup Ready trait in wheat.
WestBred, owned indirectly by Barkley Seed, Inc., is a private company with germplasm assets in all classes of wheat. Monsanto acquired the company for $45 million.
The company cited continued work of NAWG, U.S. Wheat Associates and others in the wheat industry to demonstrate support for biotechnology as one reason for its movement. The two organizations, which work together on biotechnology policy through a joint committee, welcomed the announcement in a statement, saying:
“The research challenges facing wheat are well known, as is the importance of this crop to world food supplies. This announcement comes at a time when basic research into agronomic improvements to wheat is critically needed.
“Over the past months and years, we have repeatedly voiced our support for biotechnology and outlined appropriate conditions for commercialization. We have also pressed trait providers to examine this issue carefully.
“The industry is pleased that Monsanto and other private technology providers, as well as publicly-funded institutions such as the Kansas Innovation Center for Advanced Plant Design and CSIRO in Australia, have recently announced new wheat research investments, and we urge other organizations to follow suit.”
Improving research with the ultimate goal of increasing yields 20 percent by 2018 is one of NAWG’s four strategic initiatives, and NAWG staff and grower-leaders have worked through a variety of venues to consolidate support for biotechnology in wheat and demonstrate that support to both private and public technology providers.
“We have led the charge to increase wheat research dollars and make biotechnology’s benefits available to wheat producers,” said Karl Scronce, NAWG president and a producer in Klamath Falls, Ore. “We are extremely pleased with this week’s announcement and look forward to working with Monsanto and others who might invest in this vital area.”
There is a wealth of information about the wheat industry’s biotech positions online at www.wheatworld.org/issues/biotechnology
More on Monsanto’s announcement is at www.monsanto.com/wheat