Word on Wheat: Wheat Summit Sessions Focus on the ‘How’

October 16, 2009 Bookmark and Share

Jerry McReynolds, NAWG First Vice President

It was a privilege for me to take part in the third Wheat Summit session this week in Kansas City.

The Wheat Summit meetings, sponsored by NAWG and the North American Millers’ Association, are unusual forums because they bring together folks from throughout the industry – grower groups like NAWG and U.S. Wheat to end users like bakers – to discuss what our future is going to be and how we get there. These meetings are private – limited to the 80 people in the room – so everyone can feel comfortable being frank about the problems they see down the road and how we envision our roles in fixing them.

The focus of this week’s session was on the future of wheat and our industry, and we talked a lot about research and what role biotechnology will play. There are almost endless exciting opportunities for improvements on the farm and for consumers as more is learned about the wheat genome and developments are made in transgenics as well as intragenics, where resources from wheat’s own genetic material are used.

We continued important, open dialogues about issues like adding value, capturing value, liability, stewardship and methods to pool resources to continue much-needed research now and into the future.

Food safety and choice for customers were two fundamental issues discussed during the Summit meetings. U.S. producers can and will provide consumers around the world with a variety of product options that fit their needs and preferences. We also talked a lot about quality assurance, which is always a focus of our industry.

We were happy to have representatives of Canadian and Australian growers with us at the Wheat Summit meetings. While we are fierce export competitors with both of those countries, their growers are facing many of the same challenges with drought and disease, lack of research funding and acceptance of biotechnology’s inclusion in the crop. Our Canadian and Australian friends were very open and helpful in their discussion of their challenges and successes.

I also attended an associated meeting among university researchers. While we all know and support our local breeders through our check-offs, we don’t often get them together with growers to ask how to work better with private companies, foundations, grower associations and others in the industry. University partners have to get more involved in the business process to be able to take advantage of the possibilities new collaborations with private research can provide.

NAWG has a goal of increasing wheat yields by 20 percent by 2018. That’s a very aggressive goal, but one we’ve set knowing that the industry needs an aggressive goal. Our acres are going down, but our cost of production isn’t, nor is the number of mouths we need to feed.

The question for this week’s meeting and other activities going forward is how do we the growers, industry partners, university representatives and others in the value chain work together to do what’s best for wheat in breeding, licensing and other areas that will move us toward that goal?

I was very encouraged this week to hear public researchers, representatives of private companies that do extensive research, agribusiness and producers agree that we can make it work.

– McReynolds is a wheat producer from Woodston, Kan.