Variety test technology hits stumbling block

Project results unclear Driveway device would identify wheat varieties in less than five minutes

Work to develop a “driveway” style device that can rapidly distinguish between different varieties of spring wheat appears to have hit a pothole.

A few years ago, the development of a so-called “black box technology” to identify wheat varieties at the point of delivery was viewed by some as a critical industry initiative.

Supporters of the technology, including the Canadian Wheat Board and the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, said the device would help to ensure the varietal purity of Canadian wheat shipments as the industry moved away from kernel visual distinguishability, or KVD.

But today, nearly two years after the elimination of KVD, the status of the driveway tester is unclear.

CWB funding for the project has not been renewed and the MRAC has lost track of the initiative.

Between 2006 and 2010, MRAC provided almost $200,000 to NeoVentures Biotechnology, an Ontario-based company that was involved in developing a driveway testing device.

Promoters said it would be capable of identifying a wheat variety in less than five minutes as farmers waited in the elevator lineup.

“In mid-2010, when they (NeoVentures Biotechnology) completed the project, it sounded like they were kind of ready to step off and start commercializing this,” said MRAC program co-ordinator Helena Marak.

“Where that has landed, I’m sorry to say, we haven’t received an update or heard anything.

The Western Producer was unable to reach NeoVentures Bioetchnology before press deadlines on Aug. 31.

The Canadian Wheat Board was another major supporter of the black box project.

In 2007, it invested $1.3 million to help NeoVentures Biotechnology develop a rapid driveway tester.

In early 2008, NeoVentures president Gregory Penner said the project was making steady progress and that the company was hoping to start marketing the device in limited quantities the following year.

Wheat board officials also suggested that the device could be commercialized and in the hands of Canadian grain handling companies by the fall of 2009.

Three years later, industry interest seems to have waned.

“I can’t say I’ve really heard anyone clamouring for this,” Marak said.

“There haven’t really been signals, one way or the other.”

Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association, said the western Canadian grain industry still sees value in developing a rapid variety tester.

But he does not know if the NeoVentures device is being marketed or if a similar device is available to commercial grain handlers.

As it stands, Canadian grain handling companies are using an identification system that combines KVD and varietal declarations that are made by farmers at the point of delivery.

The hybrid system is not perfect, but at this point, it is the best system available.

Sobkowich said the Saskatchewan Research Council is taking a lead role in developing varietal identification technologies but as far as he knows, the development of a rapid driveway tester is still years away.

“The SRC is the organization that I’m aware of that’s made the most advancement in rapid varietal identification but it (the SRC platform) is still not a driveway test so we still require varietal declarations…,” Sobkowich said.

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