Syngenta, one of the world’s biggest seed and pesticide companies, is stepping up its commitment to developing new wheat varieties for Western Canada.
Syngenta Canada announced July 27 it had appointed Jim Bagshaw as national seed-marketing manager for cereals, a newly created position.
“Globally, Syngenta has always been a world leader in the development of wheat and barley cereal seed genetics,” Syngenta Canada president Jay Bradshaw said in a news release. “We are delighted to now provide dedicated resources to help further the development and improvement of these vital crops here in Canada.”
Bagshaw said in an interview he’ll be working with Syngenta’s Morden-based wheat breeder Francis Kirigwi and his assistant Claude Durand.
Some of the other major seed companies have eschewed wheat breeding, saying it’s difficult to get a return on investment. Wheat, unlike canola and corn, is open pollinated making it easy for farmers to save and grow their own.
And in Canada Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is a major wheat developer.
But Bagshaw said Syngenta sees potential in breeding wheat.
“Globally wheat is a very significant crop,” he said. “It’s one of the largest food crops in the world. It’s the largest exported and traded food crop in the world so there’s a huge global opportunity.”
So how will Syngenta, who doesn’t prevent farmers from saving seed through technical use agreements, plan to get a return on its investment?
“In order to capture a return on our investment we need to provide something to the farmers that’s going to make the farmers more money,” Bagshaw said.
Syngenta must also demonstrate buying certified seed makes sense.
“Certified seed is not a cost, it’s an investment that pays for itself,” he said. “Our view has not been to use the hammer and the heavy hand of a technology use agreement, but to really start showing the value and the benefit of buying certified seed.”
Syngenta has wheat breeders around the world, including eight in the United States. They collaborate and that helps keep costs down.
Syngenta also works with Canadian universities and Agriculture Canada on wheat development, he said.
Some crops might attract more breeding investment, but that doesn’t mean working on wheat is impractical, Bagshaw said.
“You just have to be very careful and have a very focused, measured approach and you’ve got to be effective in what you’re doing,” he said.
In Canada, Syngenta is working mainly on developing new varieties for the Canada Western Red Spring class, which accounts for most of the production. It also works on Canada Prairie Spring Red and is doing some work on Hard White wheat and malting barley.
“The emphasis is on trying to take some of the higher-yield characteristics of some of the U. S. wheat and put that together with the high quality of the Canadian wheats so we can have the best of both,” Bagshaw said.
Disease tolerance, especially to fusarium head blight and rust, are also top priorities.
“So far we’ve been successful and we’ve registered quite a few varieties in Canada,” he said. “Really I see it as the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of other things under the surface that are coming.”
Syngenta has been working on genetically modified wheat, including a variety that could be more tolerant to fusarium head blight. But Syngenta won’t release GM wheat until it’s commercially acceptable, he said.
“There’s not going to be a silver bullet with varieties 100 per cent resistant (to fusarium), but we are making a higher level of tolerance not unlike blackleg in canola,” Bagshaw said.
The recent release of WR859 CL, a new Clearfield CWRS distributed through Richardson, is the first Syngenta-branded wheat in Canada. Before that Syngenta’s wheats were distributed through United Grain Growers and Proven Seeds, which now belongs to Viterra.
Two of Syngenta’s wheats that came through that system – 5602HR and 5603HR – are well known to Manitoba farmers.
Both WR859 CL and 5602HR are rated “G” (good) for tolerance to fusarium. None of the wheats registered in Western Canada has a “VG” (very good) rating. Many are rated “F” (fair) or “P” (poor). [email protected]
“Globally,Syngenta hasalwaysbeena worldleaderinthe developmentofwheat andbarleycereal seedgenetics.”
– JAY BRADSHAW