Capital Press

Even though biotechnology traits probably won't appear in commercial wheat production for a decade, the wheat industry wants to prepare for them now.

There is probably a 10-year period between the day a company starts developing a biotechnology trait and the day it first appears in wheat, said National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Daren Coppock.

Choice has proven to be a fundamental principle in building market acceptance for biotechnology traits, Coppock said.

Coppock said work would continue to ensure domestic and overseas customers may choose between a mainstream commodity channel indifferent to the presence of biotechnology traits and a non-genetically modified stream that meets commercial tolerances for a low-level presence.

"The nice thing is we have the luxury of a little bit of time to work through some of these issues," he said during a NAWG press conference call Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Drought tolerance in most wheat classes has risen to the top of the list of common desired traits in an informal poll of growers, millers and bakers, Coppock said. It also gives the United States, Canada and Australia a good platform for collaboration, he said, as drought tolerance is a quality desired by all three.

Grain Growers of Canada Executive Director Richard Phillips and North American Millers Association President Betsy Faga said farmers and milling organizations are also looking at food safety, with ongoing research in fusarium levels.

Milling organizations would be looking for milling quality, Faga said, but such traits may come in future generations as other, easier attributes are developed first.

"We're very understanding of the fact we want to get a start," she said. "As we go down the road, we'll be able to get more of the things that might be more usable by the millers. Everything will benefit us in the long run."

Jim Peterson, Oregon State University wheat breeder and chair of the National Wheat Improvement Committee, said universities need to look at their role in the future of commercialization of biotechnology in hopes that public and private partnerships evolve.

"The universities bring a lot of strengths to the table in terms of germplasm and collaborations," Peterson said, "but they also have weaknesses when it comes to acting as a business partner."

Those weaknesses include managing licenses, intellectual property rights management and liability issues. The summit served as an opportunity to discuss the challenges as a wheat community, he said.

Faga said a steering committee is working on the communication necessary to convey more information about biotechnology to the public, including stakeholders from other countries.

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