Picture this: A herbicide with a weed spectrum that rivals glyphosate. Plus, it has residual, something which glyphosate doesn’t have. It also breaks down quickly in the soil, has a low active ingredient use rate, and costs no more than glyphosate.
Is that possible?
“It you put all those aspects together, maybe it is a dream,” says Rudiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management for Bayer CropScience. “Maybe one day, though, it could become a realistic dream.”
This “new glyphosate” is a compound for which Bayer CropScience scientists are searching.
“It may happen tomorrow or 20 years from now,” says Scheitza. “You don’t know what’s out there in terms of science and what’s achievable or not. We do believe there is a need for improvement.”
It’s a tall order, though. Scheitza says there never has before been such an effective and environmentally friendly chemistry like glyphosate. On the other hand, though, weed resistance resulting from heavy glyphosate use continues to develop.
“So, we want to work on alternatives,” says Scheitza. “I can’t be precise if this will happen or not, but for sure, this a target our chemists are working on.”
Focusing on wheat
Bayer CropScience has entered the wheat business with its collaboration with the Australian research institute CSIRO. This collaboration is developing GMO (genetically modified organism) and non-GMO traits and breeding improved wheat varieties.
Initially, the wheat industry resisted genetically modified traits, fearing a consumer backlash. Marketability was a factor in Monsanto abandoning its herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready wheat in 2004.
Recently, though, wheat growers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia have wondered if the industry has missed the boat, Wheat farmers who also grew corn saw yields and efficiency increase using transgenic technology, says Rudiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management for Bayer CropScience. Meanwhile, wheat yields haven’t matched those gains made by corn. In the past couple years, Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, and Syngenta have all entered wheat technology arrangements.
Bayer is developing transgenic and non-transgenic technology like stress tolerance and nutrient use efficiency traits. It will be a while, though, before you see any wheat products from this effort appear on the market. A trait discovered today likely won’t hit the market for about 10 years.
Scheitza expects resistance from some parties regarding transgenic wheat technology. Since much wheat goes into bread and other foods, it directly contacts more humans than does corn and soybeans.
“A bigger portion of the food is for humans,” says Scheitza. “There will be more resistance, for sure. It may take more years before it gains acceptance.”
Conversely, though, it will take tools including transgenic technology to meet increasing worldwide food demand. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 70% more food will have to be produced in 2050 than today. Transgenic technology is a tool to help meet this level, says Scheitza.