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Hybrid Wheat Slated for U.S. Market Within Five Years

For years, wheat breeders have salivated at the thought of hybrid wheat akin to puppies in a pile of pork chops. 

Well, hybrid wheat may be a reality early later this decade or early in the next one.  

“We are on track to transform a 10,000-year-old crop in 10 years," says Geoff Townshend, a Syngenta project manager based in the United Kingdom at Norwich. 

Townshend and other Syngenta scientists briefed U.S. and European journalists at Syngenta’s Research and Development Day at Stein, Switzerland, in mid-September.

Radical Change 

Hybrid corn development in the 1930s radically changed the yield and yield predictability of that crop. Now, it has the potential to do the same for wheat, say Syngenta officials. Syngenta is taking the same strategy used in developing its hybrid barley offerings in the United Kingdom to hybrid wheat. 

“We have seen hybrid vigor deliver better yields,” says Townshend. That’s partially due to the better root system that hybrid wheat brings, he says. It also helps create more predictable yields from year to year. 

In conventional wheat, plants self-pollinate before the flower opens. Scientists must nix self-pollination in hybrid wheat and also modify flower structure so cross-pollination (as what happens in hybrid corn) can occur. 

Particularly key is establishing male plant sterility. Syngenta is using cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) to control male plant sterility that differs from another method that uses chemical emasculation. 

Syngenta officials think hybrid wheat has peak sales potential of $3 billion. Current hybrid wheat launch plans are 2019 and 2020 in the U.S., with other countries coming later. Testing last year occurred in areas of the U.S. like North Dakota. Compared to transgenic trait technology, regulatory hurdles are lower, as hybrid wheat is a non-genetically modified technology. 

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