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Syngenta cereal leader outlines wheat strategies

Sustainability key to Swiss company's agenda for the future


Capital Press

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. -- A key official for Syngenta says the global ag company is committed to expanding worldwide wheat production.

"We have made a conscious decision to invest in wheat and make it a strategic, global crop," Norm Dreger, Syngenta's head of cereals in North America, said. "We have a lot of technology we can bring to bear in wheat."

Other companies are making investments in wheat research, but Syngenta has been involved in the crop all along, Dreger said during a workshop and conference for international customers July 13.

The Basel, Switzerland-based company is working on spring and winter hybrid wheats, Paul Morano, key account manager for cereals, said.

"When we bring a hybrid wheat on the market, it will be a solution for a producer as opposed to just saying we have a hybrid wheat," he said.

Syngenta hopes to transform wheat production worldwide by creating new standards for yield, quality and sustainability, they said.

New marker-assisted breeding and double haploid technology will allow the company to get better-targeted products to market more quickly.

The market isn't accepting yet of genetically modified wheat, but Morano said Syngenta is prepared, working with the industry to talk about the value and safety of the product and to be prepared for when it is accepted.

Dreger foresees a coming paradigm shift. Yield is important, he said, but there are now many quality requirements, which present several opportunities. Sustainability is key to the Syngenta agenda, in the form of more efficient water and nutrient use.

As other companies announce investments in wheat research, they don't need to be competitors, Dreger said, noting he expects collaboration.

"This is bigger than Syngenta," he said. "It validates the decisions we've made within our organization. It just adds comfort that they see the same opportunities we do."

Morano said farmers will not be able to save their hybrid seed because the new development processes mean the seed changes to lower quality if used in future years.

"They can save seed, but they won't like the result," he said.

In recent months, Syngenta has reorganized, integrating its crop protection and seed businesses to focus on crops, including cereals, soybeans, corn, sugar beets, sunflowers, canola, rice and vegetables.

"We feel focusing on a crop is focusing on a customer," Dreger said.

"We think it's going to make us a heck of a lot more relevant, because we're going to have a lot more relevant solutions for growers," Dreger said.

Paul Porter, seed division manager for the Odessa Union Warehouse Co., in Odessa, Wash., said the challenge will be for the company to continue with its implementation.

"They could easily have something in another part of the world that's been discovered and we don't know anything about it here in the Northwest," he said.

But Porter is encouraged by the fact that wheat is on the radar for large companies like Syngenta. He's interested in following their progress as they work to be helpful in the growing process.

Others see opportunities.

"It adds more complexities to what we do and adds more change," Reardan, Wash., farmer Fred Fleming, founder of Shepherd's Grain and Reardan Seed Co., said of Syngenta's presentation. "The ones that are not willing to change, it's going to be very frustrating for them, but the innovators are going to take this information and run with it."


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