Northwest wheat commissions look to emulate Bayer, university agreement
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Bayer CropScience's new collaboration with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will benefit farmers and potentially serve as a model for other state and regional arrangements, representatives say.
Monheim, Germany-based Bayer and the university recently announced a non-exclusive agreement to improve wheat breeding.
According to a press release, the agreement provides Bayer with access to the university's wheat germplasm, and Bayer will establish its first North American wheat breeding station near Lincoln. The company will also contribute to the improvement of wheat cultivation in the state with research and education initiatives.
Bayer corporate spokesman Richard Breum said key traits for the wheat industry are improved yield, drought tolerance and fertilizer use efficiency. Resistance to diseases will also be important, he added.
The partnership is an opportunity for growers, said university biotechnology professor P. Stephen Baenziger, who will assume the presidential chair as part of the collaboration.
"Anybody who's willing to invest millions of dollars for wheat is the grower's best friend," Baenziger told the Capital Press. "A global company which is huge in cereal technology is entering the wheat seed business. There's going to be more choice for growers and opportunities they might not have had."
Baenziger said Bayer will focus on hard red winter and hard red spring wheats.
Northwest wheat commissions are weighing similar arrangements to bolster the region's university breeding programs, a representative said.
Dana Herron, chair of the Washington Grain Commission, sees private companies partnering with public universities as positive.
The Washington, Idaho and Oregon commissions are forming a coalition to negotiate with biotechnology companies, Herron said.
"We have so many things in common as a three-state area," he said. "We have three land-grant universities, our market classes of wheat, we're more dependent on export markets than the Midwest is."
The three commissions are working with the universities and consultant Ken Krueger. A meeting to finalize the relationship is scheduled for Feb. 1.
With all three states eyeing "massive" cuts in funding for the universities, Herron said, the commissions will examine where the programs overlap and where there are holes. They will then assess the needs of the industry and locate the bright spots in research in the region.
Herron said growers are the ultimate beneficiaries to a regional approach.
"They have private companies and public breeders working for their benefit," he said. "Long term, it's healthy for the industry."
Herron said the concern over companies working their own agenda in partnerships is a valid one. One of the reasons the Pacific Northwest commissions are working together as a region is to maintain open exchange of germplasm.
Herron said he is encouraged that the University of Nebraska will have free exchange of germplasm.
"They left the doors open for other relationships with other biotech companies, and that would be exactly what we would like to do here, too," he said.
Bayer CropScience: www.bayercropscience.com
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: www.unl.edu
Washington Grain Commission: www.wawg.org
NUtech Ventures: www.nutechventures.org
Bayer expands internationally
Bayer CropScience recently acquired wheat breeding programs from two Ukrainian breeding companies, SORT and EUROSORT, located near Kiev.
With the move, Bayer gains access to the companies' wheat lines, which have winter hardiness and drought tolerance, corporate spokesman Richard Breum said.
Breum said Bayer's goal is to provide growers in all key wheat-growing areas with the best varieties, and the Ukrainian material will help to enhance wheat lines in other regions in the same way material from other regions helps the Ukrainian program.
Industry standard development timelines are approximately eight to 10 years for new, improved varieties, but Breum said the first wheat varieties from Bayer's Ukrainian breeding programs might be available within the next five years. These would be non-genetically modified varieties suited to Black Sea regional markets.
Bayer also has collaborations with Evogene in Israel and CSIRO in Australia.
-- Matthew Weaver