Wheat a 'sleeping giant'

25 Feb, 2014 03:00 AM
Bayer wheat breeding officer Alex Bensen at Bayer's new wheat and oilseeds breeding centre near Horsham, Victoria.
It certainly is a complex crop to work with, but we see it as such as an important crop worldwide
Bayer wheat breeding officer Alex Bensen at Bayer's new wheat and oilseeds breeding centre near Horsham, Victoria.

WHILE Australia has a good number of private wheat breeders, internationally the cereal crop is regarded as a sleeping giant.

A complex genome has meant plant breeders have tended to focus on other crops such as corn and soybeans.

Genetic yield gains reflect this, with wheat gains lagging well behind these other crops, which have high level investment.

However, Bayer has made the strategic decision to invest heavily in wheat breeding across the globe.

“We believe the gains in wheat can match those made in other crops,” said Bayer general manager wheat and oilseeds Rick Turner.

“It certainly is a complex crop to work with, but we see it as such as an important crop worldwide,” said Bayer CropScience Australia general manager Jacqueline Applegate.

She said Bayer was gearing up to be a world leader in wheat breeding.

“Others may have been operating for longer in other crops, but we are working hard with wheat,” she said.

General manager for seeds, Bayer CropScience Australia Rob Hall said the company had three key components to its wheat breeding strategy, focusing on disease management, quality and yield.

He said Bayer would be focusing on high quality milling lines.

“It won’t be just high protein hard wheat, but we will be focusing on food rather than feed wheat with our breeding program,” he said.

Dr Applegate said Bayer was excited by the prospect of meeting demand from Asia and would be listening closely to feedback about what the market wanted in terms of quality.

She said the road to commercialisation was a long one.

“We hope to get varieties out before the end of the decade, but breeding is a time consuming process, even with out of season breeding facilities to speed things up," Dr Applegate said.

“We’ve got to evaluate 4000 different lines this year to select the traits we want, it is a business that requires patience.

“However, we’re up to the outdoor plot stage of trials already, and there’s been some interesting and favourable data so far.”

Dr Applegate said Bayer was happy to be participating in the Australian breeding sector.

“We like the plant breeders’ rights (PBR) system here, it’s a merit-based system," she said.

“If we want farmers to buy our varieties, we are going to have to provide them with a return on investment, and we think we can do that.”

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


deane murray
25/02/2014 6:46:27 AM

The question is, with our once well organized grower to buyer and back connection gone, (AWB Single Desk), how can we be sure our plant breeding programs are correctly focused?
25/02/2014 7:25:01 PM

i don't think it's a merit based system a all , more of a licence to flog rubbish varieties to growers using glossy leaflets and dodgy trial data and most of which we've already paid for through GRDC levies
26/02/2014 12:17:55 AM

An open-source development framework, that rightly recognises genetic material as commons, would offer greater flexibility and ROI for growers and breeders, without the invasive restrictions and potential liability that come with PBR.
26/02/2014 6:15:43 AM

At least during AWB SD times, we had strict monitoring of the quality performance of all new varieties to ensure they would be equal to or better performers in applicable end uses than earlier varieties, so that our reputation for quality was constantly being upheld and improved. Yield improvements in the paddock were always scrutinized by growers. As mark2 says, todays system risks being more about getting growers to buy new varieties just to make the breeder rich.
27/02/2014 5:20:26 AM

There has never been any evidence of any GMO crop increasing yield, but plenty to suggest quite the opposite. GMO crops produce less nutritious due to the binding effect caused by glyphosate usage. Stop the genectic pollution and save our natural seed strains.
Philip Downie
27/02/2014 7:22:12 PM

Editor/moderator. Don't you like WQA being criticized? **EDITOR'S NOTE: Comments are moderated according to a policy that will be posted online next week. I'm not sure what your specific comment was but hopefully these guidelines will clarify to you and others why some comments are published and others aren't. Thanks for your patience and continued engagement with the sites.**
Philip Downie
2/03/2014 1:43:55 PM

Aust wheat quality is getting worse and extremely variable due to the guidelines inherited by WQA from the last years of AWB. These seem to be untouchable even though they are a mess.
3/03/2014 8:39:47 AM

Nothing wrong with WA's wheat quality this year. That is why the basis is strong. Luckily for international buyers we had ideal weather for quality. You can breed all you like but as always happens, the weather largely determines your quality. Not as Phil would have you believe, the old AWB.
Philip Downie
3/03/2014 12:36:48 PM

D8 please try not to show your total ignorance of wheat quality on these pages.


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Well Said Mathew, On our place before we could ever have a wireless internet system, we would
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Good points, Matthew. Maybe you should send this piece to our new Communications Minister Mitch
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Why has AWI refused to comment?