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Syngenta Pulls Back on North American Hybrid Wheat

Company announces plan to scale back on U.S. hybrid wheat, pause hybrid effort in Canada.

Syngenta has invested nearly a decade and millions of dollars into hybrid wheat development in North America. Now, the company will scale back and refocus these efforts in both the U.S. and Canada.

In an interview with Successful Farming, Carlos Iglesias, head of North America cereals for Syngenta, says the company had for years targeted 2021 for a commercial launch date of its new hybrid spring wheat lines, and winter wheat hybrid lines shortly thereafter. However, the company has determined that under current market conditions, wheat hybrids may not offer all the value that farmers, Syngenta wheat associates, and the company itself require to make the technology viable and sustainable.

“We need to go to the market when we are ready,” Iglesias says. “There has to be an advantage to farmers, or the effort will not succeed. We want to bring to market the best hybrids we can.”

Company statement

On November 19, Iglesias shared a message to Syngenta’s wheat stakeholders that said:

“Syngenta remains fully committed to hybrid wheat, which we believe will deliver benefits to growers in increased yield — consistently year-on-year — as with hybrid barley.

“In Europe, we are most advanced with our program and plan to commercialize hybrid wheat in the next few years. In the U.S., we are continuing with our work in early-stage hybrid wheat, focusing our efforts on improving the genetic base to ensure we can select and promote hybrids that show excelling heterotic performance along with competitive production cost and end-product quality.

“We have recently decided to scale back our late-stage development work in hybrid wheat in North America, and all our hybrid wheat research in Canada will be put on hold for the time being. We will apply the learnings from commercialization in Europe, and plan to ramp up our late-stage program in North America, following the successful European launch.

“In North America, where Syngenta has a market-leading position in varietal wheat, we will continue to invest in R&D for a competitive varietal portfolio, in addition to our work in early-stage hybrid wheat. Syngenta is committed to continue generating, promoting, and marketing a stream of elite and competitive varieties for all major production zones to support our leading position in varietal wheat.”

What is hybrid wheat?

Hybrid wheat occurs when two different wheat varieties are cross-pollinated, or mated. The resulting seed is a hybrid, and plants from those seeds typically contain valuable attributes and traits from each parent. In a 2015 story on Agriculture.com, Syngenta wheat breeder and Central Plains cereals manager Jon Rich said hybrid wheat has more consistent yield over varieties, through better root development, improved fertilizer-use efficiency, and other agronomic factors.

Many seed companies are focusing investment in crops that offer higher short-term returns, like corn and soybeans. In today’s competitive wheat environment, it is difficult to continue with a program that has lower potential payback for stakeholders, Iglesias says. Let’s say that a farmer growing hybrid wheat could achieve 10% better yield, or 6 bushels per acre in a 60-bushel-per-acre field. In North America, in today’s competitive wheat environment, a 10% yield advantage over leading varieties may be “too tight for hybrid wheat to successfully compete and have attractive shared value for farmers, seed associates, and Syngenta itself,” Iglesias explains.

What this means

Iglesias says Syngenta will continue to invest in hybrid wheat in North America. Although there is no timeline on when hybrid wheat products will be available to farmers, he believes the company will eventually have them, as it will continue to invest in developing, testing, and selecting “elite hybrid wheat combinations.”

“We’re not pulling out of hybrid wheat research and development,” he says. “We’ve invested several million dollars already.

“A lot of things must go right, given that for hybrid wheat the risk of producing the seed is higher, resulting in a higher seed cost for farmers,” he adds. “We don’t want to go to the market with something that doesn’t have a good chance of succeeding in improving the rate of return wheat farmers get in every acre they plant.”

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