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Clearfield wheat varieties hit market

One seed company has shelved its herbicide tolerant wheat but another is stocking shelves with bags of a new one-pass weed control system.

Limited supplies of BASF Canada’s Clearfield wheat will be available to growers through Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Agricore United in 2005.

Commercialization of the product follows Monsanto Canada’s withdrawal of Roundup Ready wheat in 2004, making Clearfield the only herbicide tolerant wheat system on the market for the foreseeable future.

Introduction of the product, which is resistant to BASF’s Adrenalin herbicide, has been smoother than Monsanto’s tumultuous experience.

The variety, which is being marketed under the name CDC Imagine, was developed through mutagenesis, a breeding technique that enhances crop mutations through the use of chemicals. Roundup Ready wheat was created by inserting a foreign gene for herbicide tolerance into breeding lines.

That variation in scientific techniques appears to have made all the difference when it comes to one vocal opponent of GM wheat.

“We definitely don’t have near as much problem (with mutagenesis) as we do with genetic engineering because the Clearfield system uses wheat genes,” said Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate.

SOD was seeking an injunction to prevent the commercialization of Roundup Ready wheat but dropped that portion of its class action lawsuit when Monsanto voluntarily withdrew its controversial new wheat from the registration process.

The group has not taken similar legal action against Clearfield, although it is reluctant to fully endorse the crop until it learns more about mutagenesis.

Small volumes of CDC Imagine were grown in 2004 and a big jump in acreage is expected this spring. BASF Canada’s Clearfield business manager said the company has received positive feedback from the 150 western Canadian farmers who harvested the crop last year.

“The growers were just really excited by the weed control they got from Adrenalin,” said Scott Chapman.

Clearfield controls wild oats and green foxtail, including variations of the weeds resistant to Group 1 herbicides, as well as Persian darnel and barnyard grass. It also handles off-type wheats and volunteer barley.

“There is more volunteer barley than we think out there in fields. Because we haven’t been able to control it, we haven’t been that concerned about it,” said Chapman.

By using the Clearfield system, Stanley Wasilewski was able to plant 220 acres of wheat on a field of barley stubble on his farm near Battleford, Sask., something he has never been able to do before.

His CDC Imagine yielded 45 bushels per acre, three bu. per acre more than an adjacent field of McKenzie wheat. And it delivered a similar mix of quality.

While other herbicides “really laid a licking” on his McKenzie wheat, setting crop development back a full week, the CDC Imagine appeared unfazed by the application of Adrenalin.

“There was just no crop injury at all with this stuff,” said Wasilewski.

That has him singing the praises of the Clearfield system, which cost him about the same amount as buying any other certified Canadian Western Red Spring wheat variety and comparable herbicide.

“It’s going to make a mark … it will catch on,” he said.

Chapman said Clearfield has already caught on with early adopters. The two retailers are “pretty much sold out” of CDC Imagine for 2005, although seed supplies are still available in some prairie regions.

More than 1,000 growers are expected to plant the crop this spring, a tenfold increase over those who grew it in 2004.

Growers have to sign a no-fee user agreement obligating them to deliver their grain to the company from which they bought the seed.

The agreement also places stipulations on reusing the seed for next year’s crop. In the first year of the contract growers are allowed to hold back enough seed to plant a crop of exactly the same size.

The following year they must buy new certified seed.

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