Wheat research pressured as soybeans, corn expand

Research continues at slow pace | Syngenta says work on new wheat varieties is slowed by poor intellectual property rights

Syngenta and prairie growers hope wheat can fight an aggressive rearguard action as Monsanto sets its corn and soybean sights on Western Canada, where the crop is still king.


However, nothing life saving is coming quickly, says Syngenta Canada president Jay Bradshaw, and that is a problem for prairie farmers.


“I think there’s a short-term gap,” said Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kent Erickson, who worries that wheat is having trouble fending off acreage gains made by other crops.


Bradshaw said Syngenta has been investing money into wheat breeding across the world for decades, especially in recent years with hybrid cereal development.


However, Canadian hybrid wheat development is lagging because of variety registration complications and questions about whether companies can make enough money for their breeding efforts.


“My biggest competitor, I’ll say at global Syngenta, is not my colleagues (from other giant seed companies like Dow, Monsanto and Bayer), it’s actually inside of Syngenta,” said Bradshaw, noting better plant breeders’ rights and other forms of intellectual property protection within variety registration systems in other parts of the world.


“What’s really working against us is time. As we figure variety registration out in cereals and value capture in a collaborative way as we do in Canada … the rest of the world is not standing by. They’re actually getting ahead of us.”


Bradshaw said Syngenta’s wheat hybrids are marching toward reality, but there is a lot more work to do. The company has been losing money and is happy to keep doing so, as long as seed rules eventually offer years of profit potential to compensate for the losses.


“We can afford to perpetuate what we’re doing for a very long period of time. It’s a part of doing business,” said Bradshaw.


“We’ve got a lot of runway ahead of us, but we’ve got a lot of patience and we’ll continue to subsidize it until we get a breakthrough.”


Bradshaw said his and other companies will invest more money into wheat variety development once they are guaranteed that they will be able to protect the investment in breeding. However, he said that guarantee is not there at the moment.


“We’ve got to figure out that value capture mechanism,” said Bradshaw.


“That will just pop the investment in breeding. In the meantime, we’re going to go slow.”

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