Herbicide tolerant flax project progressing

Western Canada’s flax breeding program has taken a hit in recent years, but there is encouraging news coming out of the United States.

The flax industry is struggling with the loss of two of its three breeding programs with the closure of Agriculture Canada’s program in Morden, Man., and Crop Production Services’ program in Saskatoon.

There was also a temporary setback with Cibus’s initiative to create a non-genetically modified herbicide tolerant line of flax using its rapid trait development system.

The Flax Council of Canada an-nounced in December 2014 that it had pulled funding after spending $2.86 million on the project because it failed to meet “certain technical thresholds.”

Council president Don Kerr has changed his stance on the project after a November visit to Cibus’s head office in San Diego, California.

“The Cibus situation is looking quite positive.”

Kerr said the herbicide tolerant flax project appears to be following in the footsteps of the company’s sulfonylurea tolerant canola, which it is launching in the U.S. this year and expects to be available in Canada next year.

“It’s certainly back on track,” he said. “We are very optimistic. They have produced some great results. They’re beyond the shoot stage.”

He believes the flax will be sold in a similar closed-loop marketing system as the sulfonylurea tolerant canola, which is being contracted by Cargill in the U.S.

“I don’t expect that they’re going to do anything different with the flax,” said Kerr.

Cibus said its herbicide tolerant flax will be launched in the U.S. in 2019 and in Canada one year later.

The council is still not funding the project, but it has a good relationship with Cibus and will be playing some role in the project.

“We definitely will be involved going forward,” Kerr said. “We just don’t know exactly to what extent, but certainly we want to be as supportive as we can.”

He said Cibus’s RTDS technology opens the door for other breeding developments for the crop.

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