Bayer facility hopes to develop hybrid wheat within 10 years

Bayer CropsScience’s new multimillion-dollar wheat breeding station in central Saskatchewan is expected to produce its first hybrid wheat varieties in about eight years.

Company officials said new spring wheat hybrids developed at the station will likely be registered in the first half of the next decade and should be available to commercial growers before 2025.

Bayer officially opened its new wheat breeding station June 10.

The facility is located near Pike Lake, Sask., about 45 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon.

“This facility will focus solely on the development of spring wheat hybrids,” said Marcus Weidler, in charge of Bayer’s Canadian seed operations.

“Hybrid wheat is typically higher yielding than non-hybrids and, more importantly, it shows a much higher yield stability so under stress conditions, hybrid yields are more stable.”

Weidler said hybrid wheat varieties will mitigate weather-related risks and reduce uncertainty among prairie wheat growers, resulting in more predictable farmgate returns from the world’s second most widely grown cereals crop.

Construction of the Bayer’s new facility began in 2014 and was completed on budget and ahead of schedule.

The Pike Lake centre consists of laboratories, office space, equipment sheds, and 480 acres of land for field trials.

During peak season in spring and fall, it will employ 15 to 20 people.

Weidler said the facility has a pipeline full of promising breeding material, the best of which could be registered and commercialized within a decade.

Hybridization of spring wheat is viewed by some as a major breakthrough for an industry that has been losing the fight for acres to other, more profitable crops such as canola.

The new wheat breeding facility at Pike Lake will be part of Bayer’s large global wheat breeding network. Weidler said the facility is part of a $24 million investment in Canadian wheat breeding that has taken place over the last four years at Bayer.

The company has been operating a smaller breeding program at Innovation Place on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon for years.

Weidler said the company is working with seed grower organizations to determine how new wheat varieties will be increased and distributed to commercial growers.

Unlike pedigreed canola seed, which is mostly produced in southern Alberta, the production of Bayer’s pedigreed wheat seed will take place at various locations across the West.

In terms of yield potential, it is expected that Bayer’s first generation of spring wheat hybrids will offer a double-digit yield bump over existing spring wheat varieties that offer similar quality characteristics.

Bayer’s new hybrids are expected to compete with Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) and Canada Prairie Spring (CPSR) varieties, using parentage from the CWRS, CPSR and Canada Northern Hard Red (CNHR) classes.

“It’s very early right now to make any well founded estimates (on yields) … but I can assure you that if you would see a yield increase below eight to 10 percent, we wouldn’t be bringing that product to market,” Weidler said.

“It has to be significant.”

Grain Growers of Canada president Gary Stanford said Bayer’s investment in Saskatchewan is good news for wheat producers across the West.

He said investments by private sector breeding companies will complement breeding efforts that are taking place at Agriculture Canada and other publicly funded breeding centres.

In addition to higher yield potential, hybridization could deliver additional benefits through improved drought tolerance, better disease and pest resistance and reduced reliance on agricultural chemicals.

“As farmers, we’re always looking for new technologies and new ways of producing better crops,” said Stanford, who also serves as director with the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“It’s another opportunity for us as farmers to have more options as far as what we grow and how we grow it.”

Bayer’s other operations in Saskatchewan include trait development offices, regulatory offices, a crop protection development lab and a global innovation centre for canola, located northeast of Sask-atoon.

“Canada is one of the most important wheat producers in the world and it has a very innovative grower base,” Weidler said.

“For us, it was a natural choice to have a (wheat breeding) station like this in Saskatchewan.”

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