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.”