Seed makers unravelling wheat puzzle

Hybrid seed could 
be available in 2020

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Hybrid wheat is moving from elusive dream to commercial reality.


“We’ve got a fair bit of confidence that we’re going to realize this by the end of the decade,” said Darcy Pawlik, North American head for Syngenta’s cereal portfolio.


“By 2020 we’ll have something on the market.”


Researchers have been attempting to develop hybrid wheat for decades, but it has proven far more difficult to create than hybrid corn and other crops.


“Realistically, a lot of people tried it and failed,” said Pawlik in an interview at the 2014 Commodity Classic.


Syngenta decided to identify what didn’t work in those previous attempts and overcome the hurdles one by one.


“We started saying, ‘hey, I think we can do this thing,’ ” he said. “It wasn’t a task that was impossible. It was something we felt we could do.”


The project is at the back end of the proof of concept stage. The crop was field tested at a number of locations throughout North America in 2013, including Manitoba. Pawlik said it is too early to make specific performance claims, but research suggests that a 10 percent yield boost over existing wheat varieties should be easily attainable.


“We really think that’s sort of the base line for what you see for progress,” he said.


That has certainly been the case for the company’s hybrid barley, which is in its fourth year of commercialization in the European Union.


“Going off of what we’ve seen across the pond, it looks quite positive,” said Pawlik.


“Where we see the biggest gains are really under stress conditions.”


The hybrid barley is performing well under drought, when planted on hilly land or grown under other less than optimal conditions.


That makes him think hybrid wheat will be a good fit for Western Canada, which is usually characterized by dry growing conditions.


DuPont Pioneer is another major seed technology company working on hybrid wheat, although it is further behind than Syngenta.


“We’ve been testing it and looking at it for several years now. It’s out there in our trait pipeline,” said Luke Davies, senior marketing manager of DuPont Pioneer’s Heartland Business Unit.


“It’s not on the near-term horizon but definitely delivering benefits in the early stages of research and development.”