We want work on wheat

IT WAS heartening to travel the world and see the level of private investment going into grain breeding.

State of the art facilities in both Europe and North America are dedicated to crop improvement.

However, from an Australian perspective, its disappointing to see the lack of focus of wheat.

Through the US corn / soybean rotations are king, and research work from the private sector certainly focuses on this.

In Canada, canola is currently the big money maker, and the research dollars are flowing there.

Even in Europe, breeders such as Limagrain dedicate a lot of their time and energy to work on maize.

The obvious argument is that it is driven by a desire for biotechnology and that biotech is more advanced in corn and soybeans, but this is a little simplistic.

The vast majority of work Limagrain do in Europe is on conventional lines.

I’d suggest its more that there is still so much low-hanging fruit to be gained from corn and soybean work.

Corn productivity increases directly from genetics are still improving at a fantastic rate of 3pc in many parts of the world, which compares very favourably to wheat, which has stagnated at a little less than a percent in Australia in recent years.

It’s not from lack of effort, its just that wheat is a very complex plant, and there has been sustained work on breeding for many years now.

However, what is good to hear is that wheat is back on the radar of the big breeders.

Obviously, the chance for biotech varieties is the headline act here and a key reason behind it, but the big private breeders also acknowledge market sentiment and the need for non-GM lines.

It will be fantastic to see more private research dollars going in to help the wonderful work done by organisations such as CIMMY and ICARDA.

While these two organisations are churning out some wonderful germplasm that is having fantastic results, especially in the 3rd World, they are still minnows in terms of funding.

“Monsanto spend more on a month on their research than is spent in an entire year across the globe on wheat,” said CIMMYT’s David Bonnett.

It certainly puts it all in perspective.

However, Australian farmers will have to change their culture.

Throughout North America there’s a strong emphasis on hybrids. The companies will tell you its because of the hybrid vigour, but upon pressing, they reveal the fact farmers need to buy seed every year is probably not a bad thing for them either!

Australian farmers, with their focus on wheat, have been happy to rely on stored seed. While farmers might kick up about issues such as plant breeding rights and end point royalties, the bottom line is that if there is not an incentive for companies to get involved here, they won’t. The companies are blunt about the fact there needs to be a reward for them too – and this means that the culture of ‘brown bagging’ seed needs to stop if we are to get the investment we need.

Agriculture is booming globally right now and its right on the radar for many big businesses. There’s a lot of great work being done in Australia now, through both the private companies and organisations such as GRDC, however, we have to ensure we provide an attractive environment for overseas investors to come in. That’s what’s going to lead to more money, and hopefully, more cracking wheat varieties hitting the market sooner rather than later.

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READER COMMENTS

jmca
29/09/2011 9:03:41 AM

did you ask a us farmer if he'd prefer our system to theirs? the epr based system holds seed breeders to account, they profit (or don't) from the productivity of the seed. of course a breeder would prefer a system whereby they produce a seed, market it and pocket the money upfront. they would make their money on promises rather than results. be careful what you wish for.

Jimmy, that's a ripping idea. I agree there needs to be a more even distribution of the risk between farmers and those either up or downstream in the supply chain. We spoke to seed companies abroad and they basically don't want to know about such a system, but it certainly seems equitable to me that they sink or swim on the merits of their product, rather than pocket the income rain, hail or shine. With a bit of competition about, hopefully they will have to make these concessions in order to win grower business.

Posted by moderator: Gregor Heard on 29/09/2011 12:02:35 PM
creeker
17/09/2011 3:11:41 PM

Your on the mark, Mark2 ! I am sick to death of hearing the wimpish attempts of Heard and others to justify their support for GM and the companies who sell it. Only a crazy farmer would sell his future to a company like Monsanto with its track record of suing their own customers. It has been said a hundred times before. NO independent scientific study has shown any benefit in GM crops despite the millions spent. Now they spend the money in convincing people like Terry Redman and gullible journos like Heard.
mark2
12/09/2011 12:45:31 PM

come off the grass Gregor, monsanto particularly, is ONLY interested in GM varieties so there is no comparison. Everything is about marketing in the grains job, that is the point you and many others have continually missed. There is no such environment to give breeders the incentive you talk about that doesn't involve marketing to differentiate the products from the commodities. The royalties issues and nonperforming privately bred varietial lines we're all complaining about are symptoms of deregulation and loss of grower control of the industry.
Ken
11/09/2011 6:04:20 PM

Who cares about breeding new varieties when the industry is looking at maybe two decades of stagnation post desk with profitability way off the mark compared to livestock and any margin in profitability to growers being pilfered by the corporate traders as well as the freight and handling job in the east being systematically bled to death as a result of a lack of competition in rail and storage
the advocate
9/09/2011 10:05:30 AM

Hope u learnt enought that u will be able to realise when a company like awb ltd is ripping off growers that u might do a bit of work and highlight the fact - past tense. Now i hope u can investigate any shennanigans Cargill might get up to.
mark2
8/09/2011 4:05:42 PM

just what sort of "attractive environment for overseas investors" do you have in mind Gregor? The private sector was supposed to step in with investment in storage and handling post deregulation but I don't see a lot of activity there. In fact , Growers are the ones putting up the money to built coop style sites and on farm storage. The corporate sector only invests when there is an opportunity for a monopoly or other similar advantage such as GM.

OK - lets get this straight, this piece has NOTHING to do with grain marketing. Nor does it have anything to do with rolling over to internationals looking to lazily roll out a couple of new lines and reap some easy money in end point royalties without providing growers any benefit.

What I am calling for is an environment where seed companies have the incentive to work on providing good varieties that provide real benefit to growers.

In North America the competition between the likes of Monsanto, Pioneer and Bayer means no-one can afford to rest on their laurels, or else the other's innovations will see them lose market share. Yes, this is largely in the GM sphere, but there is no reason it could not apply to conventional wheat lines in Australia.

It's hard to stomach paying a royalty for a variety that isn't doing much better than its free predecessors, as is largely the case in wheat in Australia, where varieties up to 20 years old are still popular, but if there are some real productivity gains on offer, then there's no reason it can't be a win-win situation.

Posted by moderator: Gregor Heard on 10/09/2011 11:52:58 AM
Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.

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