AS Bayer prepares to merge with leading genetically engineered seed producer Monsanto, the German-headquartered crop technology giant says hybridisation, not genetic modification (GM), is the future of wheat variety development.
“We have no plan for GM in wheat, we see no future in that,” said Bayer CropScience head of strategy Mathias Kremer.
Monsanto, a leading proponent in GM technology, has limited investment in wheat. But it is an important crop for Bayer which invests in significant research and development including the wheat and oilseeds breeding centre at Horsham, Victoria as well as partnerships with Australian organisations such as CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
Bayer launched its wheat hybrid development program five years ago - essentially crossing two pure lines to produce target traits in new varieties.
“This really is something new, and we are expecting to have the first varieties out in 2023,” Mr Kremer said.
Hybrid varieties could increase fertiliser and water use efficiency. Farm gate returns are critical, Mr Kremer said, and the hybrid varieties could deliver a 20 per cent boost to yields.
“The first varieties will start with around 3pc to 5pc, but we assume that will increase. We know we can cross-breed lines, that is not the important thing. But to do it in a productive and economic way is something we are on a pretty good path to achieve, and that is crucial.
“If you have good hybridisation, but the costs are so high farmers can’t afford new varieties, then it doesn’t make much sense.”
Mr Kremer downplayed fears a merged Bayer-Monsanto company would overlook relatively small, developed markets like Australia for ripe pickings in large, developing markets such as Africa, or South America.
“Australia will always be a big focus… When it comes to seed activities, in cotton and canola for example, why shouldn’t we go with Australia? It’s too important.”