Syngenta, one of the world’s biggest seed and pesticide companies, is stepping up its commitment to developing new wheat varieties for Western Canada.
Syngenta Canada announced July 27 it had appointed Jim Bagshaw to the new position of national seed-marketing manager for cereals
“Globally, Syngenta has always been a world leader in the development of wheat and barley cereal seed genetics,” Syngenta Canada president Jay Bradshaw said in a news release. “We are delighted to now provide dedicated resources to help further the development and improvement of these vital crops here in Canada.”
Bagshaw said in an interview he’ll be working with Syngenta’s Morden, Manitoba-based wheat breeder Francis Kirigwi and his assistant Claude Durand.
Some of the other major seed companies have stayed away from wheat breeding, saying it’s difficult to get a return on investment. Wheat, unlike canola and corn, is open pollinated, making it easy for farmers to save and grow their own. In Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is a major wheat developer.
Bagshaw says Syngenta sees potential in wheat, which is one of the world’s largest and most traded crops.
“We’re going to have to grow more wheat and it’s an opportunity that’s only going to get larger in the future, not smaller.”
But how does the company, which doesn’t prevent farmers from saving seed, plan to capture a return on its investment?
“We need to provide something to the farmers that’s going to make the farmers more money,” Bagshaw said.
Syngenta must also demonstrate buying certified seed makes sense.
“Certified seed is not a cost, it’s an investment that pays for itself,” he said. “Our view has not been to use the hammer and the heavy hand of a technology-use agreement, but to really start showing the value and the benefit of buying certified seed.”
Syngenta has wheat breeders around the world, including eight in the United States. They collaborate to help keep costs down. Syngenta also works with Canadian universities and Agriculture Canada on wheat development, Bagshaw said.
“You just have to be very careful and have a very focused, measured approach and you’ve got to be effective in what you’re doing,” he said.
In Canada, Syngenta is working mainly on developing new varieties for the Canada Western Red Spring class, which accounts for most of the production. It also works on Canada Prairie Spring Red and is doing some work on Hard White wheat and malting barley.
“The emphasis is on trying to take some of the higher-yield characteristics of some of the U.S. wheat and put that together with the high quality of the Canadian wheats so we can have the best of both,” Bagshaw said.
Disease tolerance, especially to fusarium head blight and rust, are also top priorities.
“So far we’ve been successful and we’ve registered quite a few varieties in Canada,” he said. “Really I see it as the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of other things under the surface that are coming.”
Syngenta has been working on genetically modified wheat, including a variety that could be more tolerant to fusarium head blight. But Syngenta won’t release GM wheat until it’s commercially acceptable, Bagshaw said.
“There’s not going to be a silver bullet with varieties 100 per cent resistant (to fusarium), but we are making a higher level of tolerance not unlike blackleg in canola.”
The recent release of WR859 CL, a new Clearfield CWRS distributed through Richardson, is the first Syngenta-branded wheat in Canada. Before that its wheats were distributed through Proven Seeds, which now belongs to Viterra.
Two of Syngenta’s wheats that came through that system are WR859 CL and 5602HR, both rated “G” (good) for tolerance to fusarium. None of the wheats registered in Western Canada has a “VG” (very good) rating. Many are rated “F” (fair) or “P” (poor).
“We’regoingtohaveto growmorewheatandit’san opportunitythat’sonlygoing togetlargerinthefuture,not smaller.”