It sounds almost to good to be true — spring wheat yields averaging 6.5 per cent higher when treated with what Bayer CropScience calls a “plant health compound.”
Bayer has yet to disclose the exact nature of the experimental product, but says it boosts yields by reducing plant stress.
The results are based on 19 trials in North America conducted in 2011 and 2012 with more than 80 per cent of the data points showing a positive yield response, says Kelly Patzer, Bayer CropScience’s cereals development manager.
“This is big,” Patzer told invited agronomists and reporters attending Bayer’s “The Science Behind” conference Nov. 26 to 28.
“Just to put that into perspective… if we were looking at this from a plant-breeding perspective with conventional plant-breeding technology this represents at least a decade of yield improvement,” he said.
“This is from a single seed treatment. To do this reliably this is enormous in the big scheme of things so there is potentially big opportunity here.”
In an interview later Patzer described the experimental plant growth compound as “unique,” and “unprecedented,” so much so it’s unclear how it will be regulated because it’s not a herbicide, insecticide, fungicide or fertilizer and therefore falls outside the regulatory mandate of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
“So it’s really paradigm shift,” Patzer said. “What’s really interesting about it is what we are essentially aiming to do is increase crop efficiency — increase yield — by removing abiotic stress. So it’s essentially getting more with the same resource, which is really exciting when we talk about productivity and resource management.”
Abiotic stresses come from the environment and include temperature extremes, drought and high winds — stresses farmers can’t currently combat with chemicals.
Patzer said it’s unclear how soon this experimental product will be commercially available.
“But clearly this is not in the too-distant future,” he said.
“We are preparing all the evaluations that would normally be required to register a new product — all the environmental work as well as the research work on how it behaves in the plant and of course all the toxicology work will be done,” Patzer said.
“There is such an opportunity here for industry and growers that we would be remiss if we didn’t pursue this. Exciting times ahead.”
Experiments with foliar applications of the plant health compound have also boosted yields, he said. The product will likely be available in a tank-mixable form or as a co-pack allowing farmers to apply it when spraying conventional pesticides, as well as a seed treatment.
Bayer’s research is so new patents are still pending.
Canada is leading the research, and as it turns out, its farmers will likely reap the most benefits because of the harsh environment crops are grown in, Patzer said.
“These materials relieve abiotic stress and limitations on crop yield and by dealing with those we have the most to gain and in fact that’s what we’re seeing with our research,” he said. “We see a proportionately better benefit in Canada than in some of these other key producing areas.
“And in fact what it will do is help our growers close some of those yield caps that we see when we compare to say, northern Europe.
“This is a tool to help us get more out of our production system in our current environment.”
Officials from Bayer CropScience also discussed their work on new canolas that are resistant to clubroot, less prone to pod shattering and tolerant to sclerotinia.