By Jennifer Latzke, High Plains Journal, May 22, 2018, Excerpts Reprinted with Permission

Editor’s Note: This article covers innovative ways wheat farmer organizations and public universities in several Plains states are investing to produce more wheat with improvements for farmers and end users in ways that are most sustainable.

The reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can feel bleak. This year farmers are projected to plant the second lowest total wheat acreage on record for the U.S. since 1919 — 47.3 million acres.

Winter wheat acres for 2018 are at the second lowest acreage since 1909, at 32.7 million acres. From new branding efforts, to new structures, to innovative research many scientists and industry professionals across the High Plains are working to ensure that the breadbasket of the world stays right here.

Farmers growing hard white (HW) winter wheat have dealt with a “Catch-22” situation for years. To grow demand, they must grow more white wheat. But to grow the quantities to meet demand, they must have an established market for the wheat that makes segregation worth the price.

Kansas Wheat is rolling out a branding campaign, “High Plains Platinum,” that aims to capture the added value of hard white wheat while still growing production.

Aaron Harries, vice president of research and operations with Kansas Wheat, explained that Platinum is a project developed with a grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture to establish and promote the high quality of hard white winter wheat grown in Kansas. Farmers plant Platinum-identified hard white winter wheat varieties that have excellent quality characteristics that millers and bakers demand. At harvest, the farmer takes his Platinum white wheat grain to a participating elevator that can then market that wheat to buyers as meeting the standards established by the program.

“It’s an effort to differentiate by establishing a market for hard white wheat through branding,” Harries said … In this case, Platinum white wheat must have: a minimum 12 percent protein; a minimum 60-pound test weight; less than 11.5 percent moisture; and contain less than 2 percent other classes of wheat. However, because of grain inspection rules a label or certificate can’t be attached to white wheat coming from a producer’s field.

With this attempt to establish a level of quality under the Platinum name, the hope is farmers and elevators can fully capture the value of their crop. And if this proves successful, the hope is neighboring states can come on board under the Platinum umbrella too.

Oklahoma Builds Capacity. In November 2017, [Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks] (OFSS) cut the ribbon on its new 20,000-square-foot facility at the Oklahoma State University Agronomy Research Station in Stillwater … to support the growing demand for certified seed from the public breeding program at Oklahoma State University.

Jeff Wright, coordinator of production and operations at OFSS, said this facility’s improved storage space means they can keep larger numbers of seed available for seedsmen to increase earlier in the variety release process.

“We are trying to have a larger amount of seed available so that when we do release a variety, it can get to the farmer at the end certified level quicker,” Wright said …

Currently, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission estimates that half of all the state’s wheat acres are planted with OSU-bred varieties. Sales revenue from those varieties goes back to OFSS to support future wheat breeding and research efforts. OFSS also licenses certain wheat varieties to Oklahoma Genetics, Inc.

Colorado Releases Grassy Weed Control. Grassy weed control in wheat acres is a challenge to growing high quality grain the market demands. But a new discovery out of Colorado State University is poised to revolutionize the market.

CoAXium is a wheat production system using the genetic trait, AXigen, identified through traditional wheat breeding methods at Colorado State University. Wheat varieties with the AXigen gene are immune to … a Group 1 ACCase inhibiting herbicide that controls grassy weeds, such as brome, feral rye, jointed goatgrass and wild oats.

Brad Erker is the new executive director for the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation. The CWRF takes ownership of CSU wheat varieties, and provides money to the wheat breeding program from royalties charged on those varieties …

“If we have a successful launch of a trait from a public institution like this, it shows that trait development at CSU is fruitful,” he said. “It could be the start of more patentable traits, and proving we can tackle the big problems wheat farmers face.”

Texas Drones Gather Data … Jackie Rudd, Texas A&M University wheat breeder, explained how his breeding program is utilizing new technology to better capture and crunch data.

“We’ve used a lot of sensor type data collecting rigs…” he said. “But this year we jumped in and we are using a drone to fly over plots and collect data.” Texas A&M invested in a data processing system that … tabulates that data and in a day’s time Rudd has at his fingertips plot by plot data and can make breeding decisions.

“We are increasing our efficiency and doing more with the resources we do have. We can reduce the time frame new varieties come out, and provide growers more and better material.”

And, the drone flyovers can happen on a daily basis, allowing Rudd to see how the plant changes day by day according to weather and other stressors. This year alone he’s been able to see daily changes to moisture on the dryland plots that he’s never been able to capture and quantify before. That makes a big difference when you’re trying to breed the next wheat variety that will perform well in harsh environmental conditions.

Nebraska Uses Genetic Markers for Improvement. Data is the key to finding the next great wheat variety. Today, with the sequencing of the wheat genome, Stephen Baenziger, wheat breeder for the University of Nebraska, can use genetic markers along with estimated breeding values to better select what lines to advance in his purebred and hybrid wheat variety trials.

“So, let’s say you go to a field and a couple of lines look similar, but you can predict one will work better,” Baenziger said. “Phenotypic data augmented with genotypic data shows us which is better.” It’s evaluating by sight, but also with genetic information found from DNA sequencing.

In 2016, … genomic data saved six years of wheat breeding and countless dollars invested. Ultimately, this tool means his program can be more efficient and provide a quicker return on investment for wheat growers …

“We are committed to the economic sustainability of the American farmer,” Baenziger said. “We’re going to try to get high quality and profitable wheat and save farmers money while they produce more.”


By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications

Several colleagues from U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) had a great experience on May 16 on a visit to Bayer Corporation’s main North American wheat breeding laboratory and nursery near Lincoln, Neb. They had a true look at the future, one that includes a more stable supply of high quality wheat for millers and wheat food processors around the world.

Bayer has made a substantial commitment to overcoming an age-old wheat breeding challenge: to develop and commercialize hybrid wheat.

The process of producing hybrid plant seeds can be simply described. Two distinct varieties of the same plant, each with unique characteristics are cross-bred. One plant has sterile female flowers, the other produces pollen and the fertilized plant produces a new, unique offspring.

But with a complex plant like wheat with three whole genomes in each cell and often 6 copies of each gene, that process is not easy. In fact, it was described as downright complex. Some of the scientists USW met with have worked toward hybrid wheat for more than 10 years. They say the work requires collaboration with a wide range of scientific disciplines; a true team effort. And the team at Bayer certainly represent that. They are focused on the hybrid goal, their comradery is quite evident and they are very excited about the potential of the work. The team includes experienced winter and spring wheat breeders, as well as plant pathologists who are testing new varieties for resistance to diseases like Fusarium head blight, or scab. Perhaps most important for the world’s U.S. wheat buyers, this team includes wheat quality specialists who are determining if new hybrid varieties meet or exceed grade and functional milling, baking and processing standards for the wheat class. If a new line does not meet or exceed standards, it is rejected.

Bayer and other public and private breeders are working toward hybrid lines for several reasons. Hybrid wheat demonstrates a productive yield increase. This is needed by farmers, especially small holder farmers, around the world to offset the currently limited profitability of growing single line wheat varieties. It is also needed to continue meeting record setting use of wheat by a growing global population. They see much more stable production levels across a variety of growing conditions with hybrid wheat. Hybridization also allows breeders to “stack” native and non-GM traits into wheat seed more precisely and efficiently than other breeding methods.

There is much work to be done, especially to screen and refine the new lines being produced, and it will be many years before hybrid wheat seeds are fully ready for farmers’ fields. However, the USW colleagues saw why the Bayer team is so enthusiastic about their work in the field trial plots around the Nebraska facility. What was described as a “radical transformation” of the tools available to conduct this complex research is accelerating the ability to bring new wheat lines to market. Most encouraging was the company’s willingness to incorporate into their work USW’s knowledge of what overseas millers, bakers and wheat food processors need to improve the quality of and demand for their end products.

USW wants to thank not only the Bayer team for their transparency and interest in our work with the world’s wheat buyers and users, but also wheat breeders around the world, who are working day and night to improve this staple crop for an increasingly hungry world.


By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Assistant Director of Policy

Last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) published a legal opinion from its Advocate General that gene editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 should not be included in the EU’s regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While the ECJ is not required to follow this legal opinion, in practice they often do. The ECJ will rule on the issue in the coming months.

This news is important because when the regulatory status of plant breeding innovations that are different from biotechnology is uncertain, scientists have trouble moving forward with new trait development. While transgenic biotechnology (GM or GMO) involves inserting foreign DNA into the target plant, these new techniques allow for gene deletion or modification without the presence of foreign DNA.

Innovation is an important evolution in the plant breeding process in that it involves precise changes in a plant’s genome in a controlled manner. Over-regulation of these technologies could stifle scientific advancements that the agricultural community needs to continually improve food supply in a sustainable way. If these advanced breeding methods were automatically regulated as GMOs, this would make it nearly impossible for non-commercial researchers and small companies to use them to develop new varieties for the market.

For wheat, the effect of not having commercialized advanced breeding traits can be seen in the concerning decline in both planted area compared to other crops and in research funding. Wheat yields have not increased at the same rate as other crops, and the potential for quality improvements has not been realized.

Additionally, these new breeding innovations would allow scientists to develop traits that are consumer-facing, with the potential to improve everything from milling quality to nutrition and health benefits that would be good for the entire supply chain.

Plant breeding innovations like gene editing have the potential to create new varieties of wheat that meet pressing needs both for farmers and customers, so it is important that any regulation of these new technologies be science-based.

To read more, visit


By Jack Money, Excerpted from “The Oklahoman” with Permission

This time of year, talk about wheat always focuses on the harvest. Researchers at Oklahoma State University and land grant universities across the country aren’t focused on what’s being cut this year, though. Instead, they’re thinking about the complex testing they never stop doing to develop the future wheat varieties farmers will want to grow.

Historically, they’ve geared their work to develop wheat varieties that can hold up in drought conditions and are resistant to insects or disease. They’ve also worked to develop dual purpose varieties that can be grazed early on and still grow quickly enough to provide a decent yield for harvest at the end of each year’s growing season.

Now, their focus is shifting somewhat to developing varieties that have the milling and baking qualities the … food industry desires. Achieving that, they say, will give farmers who grow those varieties the ability to make better money at harvest time — something they hope will encourage more farmers to invest a little more to plant certified seed in their fields.

Sales of that certified seed generates revenues to support further research, something that’s a key part of keeping Oklahoma’s wheat industry strong, those researchers say.

“We want to see farmers go more for growing the grains that millers are looking for, where they are sourcing wheat grown from a particular region of the state,” said David Marburger, a small grains extension specialist and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University (OSU). “In a world where we have a lot of wheat, we need ours to start floating toward the top,” Marburger noted. “Right now, people are buying our wheat at a discounted price and that costs our economy money.”

In nearly three dozen wheat fields across Oklahoma this year, plots of various wheat varieties were planted and then grown to maturity to both analyze the varieties’ performances and to give wheat farmers an opportunity to consider planting them. Marburger made his comments, for example, at a test site on wheat farmer [and past USW Chairman] Don Schieber’s land near Ponca City as he and other researchers discussed the strengths, weaknesses and genetic origins of more than a dozen wheat varieties grown at the site.

The breeding program is overseen by Brett Carver, who joined OSU in 1985 to begin a research and teaching career in quantitative genetics and wheat development. In 1998, he assumed leadership of the university’s wheat improvement team, becoming just the third person to lead the group since the program began in the mid­ 1940s.

Before that, farmers used to develop new varieties of wheat on their own, and early on in the university’s program, researchers pollinated two kinds of wheat just to see what might result. Later, that evolved into crossing varieties of wheat to create a new variety containing positive characteristics from both.

Now, genetics are playing a bigger role. Carver’s wheat improvement team, for example, includes three molecular geneticists, an entomologist, a plant pathologist and other specialized researchers.

“The program I direct is all about developing the lines that become varieties. It is a long, complicated process and one that you just don’t want to start and stop. You have to keep it going,” Carver said.

The process to develop a new hybrid starts, he said, with his improvement team and its technicians working in greenhouses to cross pollinate varieties of wheat to get something new.

“You have to go against the grain, both literally and figuratively, because you have to force it to do that,” Carver said. That requires the removal of the male parts of the plant on one type of wheat, and then fertilizing the plant with pollen from another. And it all has to be done by the hands of researchers and their technicians, “like bees moving pollen from one plant to the other,” Carver said.

The team seeks to make more than 1,000 cross combinations each year, then evaluates mature plants to see if they are worth further research. If one is worthy, the team spends another five to six years to get the plant ready for field tests, and those take anywhere from three to as many as six years to complete. On average, OSU’s team spends 11 years creating and testing a new variety, Carver said.

“When it’s released (made commercially available to wheat growers), it’s like putting out a song and making it available for public use, but it is still going to be researched and evaluated,” Carver said.

Mark Hodges, executive director of Oklahoma Genetics Inc., handles the business side of wheat research in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Genetics, Inc. is an education nonprofit that promotes the stewardship and publicizes and markets the use of certified varieties of wheat. It also promotes educational programs and scientific research for the benefit of crop producers and markets, and supports plant breeding programs designed to meet current and future consumer demands.

Hodges said Oklahoma Genetics was formed in 2005. It also works with OSU and the Oklahoma Wheat Commission to educate farmers about wheat varieties produced by the university’s research, and to distribute certified seed from those varieties so they can be sold to farmers.

Seed sales generate royalty revenues that flow back to the university [and other organizations that may hold patents].

“That’s extremely important, because it supports the efforts of Dr. Carver and his team to develop new varieties,” Hodges said.

The university also receives money collected from wheat growers by grain operators at harvest for the Oklahoma Wheat Commission’s checkoff program, which captures 2 cents per bushel of harvested wheat.

Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said the checkoff program [funding goes in part] to OSU to support its wheat research program.

“I think it really is impressive to see the commitment made by Dr. Carver and the wheat improvement team to make these programs happen,” Schulte said. “Without the support of the wheat commission, Oklahoma Genetics and the state’s wheat producers, it would be extremely hard to keep our public wheat research program at OSU viable, especially given Oklahoma’s current economy.”


By Dr. Senay Simsek, Bert L. D’Appolonia Cereal Science and Technology of Wheat Endowed Associate Professor, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND

With the global demand for wheat remaining quite strong, there is a continual need to develop new varieties that have resistance to the latest disease threats, as well as improved yield, agronomic and end-use qualities. The varieties available today are improved over historic varieties, yet their basic genetic structure is essentially unchanged. In the Northern U.S. Plains during the past century, there have been many improved wheat cultivars, including many public varieties developed by breeders at North Dakota State University (NDSU).

Those of us involved in wheat research, production and processing fully accept that flour from HRS and other wheat classes as well as semolina is healthy and very nutritious for the vast majority of people. However, this has not prevented opposing points of view, and serious attacks against food products that contain gluten.

Celiac disease is a real and serious autoimmune condition that has gained a lot of attention in the past few years. Reputable medical organizations have determined that celiac disease is prevalent in about 1 of every 100 people worldwide. However, the over-simplified explanation that “gluten causes celiac disease” has likely hurt the reputation of wheat and wheat foods. There is a subtle but significant difference that demonstrates gluten alone does not cause celiac disease and, as our study showed, that new wheat varieties are not responsible for increased cases of celiac.

The gluten in wheat, which is essential for the elastic texture of dough, is composed of two separate proteins: glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin and gliadin are divided into distinct compounds, which in turn are made up of specific peptides (compounds of two or more amino acids in a chain).

A genetic predisposition to celiac must exist in individuals before the presence of certain gliadin and glutenin peptides may trigger an immune response that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine. These peptides are therefore considered “immunogenic.” Previous studies have found that α-gliadin proteins in wheat have a high number of immunogenic peptides.

In many ways, simply blaming gluten for celiac has helped spark quite a bit of unwanted attention from bloggers, authors, doctors and others making claims that modern breeding practices have changed wheat protein chemistry. This has resulted in a higher concentration of immunogenic peptides in modern wheat in comparison to historical wheat varieties, and that this is a contributing factor towards increased incidence of celiac disease.

To test this hypothesis, we studied the protein chemistry of 30 HRS wheat cultivars released in North Dakota in the last century. The presence of celiac disease-initiating-peptides was determined using untargeted mass spectrometry, and the amount of these peptides was quantified using a targeted mass spectrometric approach. We collaborated with Dr. Steven Meinhardt from the NDSU Plant Pathology Department and graduate student Maneka Malalgoda worked with us as part of her master’s thesis project. This project was funded by growers through checkoff funds from the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

In the qualitative analysis, we determined the presence of 15 immunogenic peptides. We found that the presence of these peptides is not related to the release year of cultivars and that these peptides appear randomly. In our quantitative analysis, we specifically tracked two prominent immunogenic peptides, PFPQPQLPY (DQ-α-I/ glia-α9) and RPQQPYPQ (glia-α20), and total α-gliadin. The results supported our previous findings. That is, the amount of the peptides varied randomly across the years that were analyzed, and there is no correlation between release year and the number of immunogenic peptides or total α-gliadin.

Thus, overall, our results demonstrate that modern HRS wheat is not higher in terms of celiac disease immunogenicity in comparison to historical HRS varieties.

Our team plans to submit the complete study report to a peer reviewed journal in the future.

Editor’s Note: Capital Press has reported that a researcher is working with the Kansas Wheat Commission at the Heartland Plant Innovations Center in Manhattan, KS, toward a “celiac-safe” wheat. In theory, celiac-safe wheat would still contain the gluten proteins necessary for making bread, but would have none of the immunogenic peptides which trigger an immune response in people with the genetic predisposition for celiac disease, said Chris Miller, director of wheat quality research for Heartland Plant Innovations.

“I think the problem of celiac disease is so big that it won’t be solved by a single group of researchers,” Miller said. “If we can identify the underlying cause of celiac reactivity in the process, and we have the means to reduce it, we should be working towards those types of goals.”


What is plant breeding innovation? What do plant breeders do? And what could the latest breeding techniques like gene editing mean for the future of agriculture and society? Find answers to these questions and more at, a new educational resource developed by the American Seed Trade Association.

The plant breeding innovation website is a multimedia platform that houses “Frequently Asked Questions, a blog, plant breeder profiles, videos, one-page summaries and other resources about the evolution and future of plant breeding. Visit and follow @Better_Seed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more.


Through advancements in agriculture and the development of new crop varieties, humans have historically strived to meet the needs of a growing population and to develop a safe, reliable and sustainable food supply. How will we continue to meet this challenge, while dealing with a changing climate and threats of new pests and diseases? The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) affirms that continued innovation is paramount to the future of agriculture and to our shared quality of life. Plant breeders including those who develop new wheat varieties will need access to available tools to responsibly meet these challenges.

The fundamental practices of plant breeders have not changed over time, ASTA notes. Plant breeders still select the best plants for their desired goal, which may be higher yields, disease resistance, improved end use characteristics or better nutrition. However, the tools and information that plant breeders use have evolved, allowing them to take advantage of the growing understanding of plant science and genetics. Today, with the capability to sequence plant genomes and the ability to link a specific gene or genes to a specific characteristic, breeders are able to more precisely make improvements in plant varieties. Breeders can also make specific changes in existing plant genes in ways similar to changes that could occur in nature.

Innovative breeding methods include a variety of tools that mimic processes that have been used in traditional breeding since the early 20th century. ASTA reports that breeders may opt to use the newer methods rather than classical breeding to reach the same endpoint more accurately and efficiently. As with more traditional breeding methods, some of the newer methods focus on using a plant’s own genes, or genes from the plant’s wild relatives, to create a desired characteristic, such as disease resistance or drought tolerance. It is a more precise way of creating genetic variation — a longtime goal of plant breeders. To read more about innovations in wheat breeding, visit

It is important to note that seeds are comprehensively regulated by USDA. A key feature of the plant breeding process is extensive testing and evaluation starting early in the process and continuing until the final product is commercially available. These tests are based on procedures breeders have used for many decades to create new plant varieties that are safe to grow and eat.

The world’s farmers and food manufacturers understand that America’s agriculture producers face the very real challenge of providing for a growing population so future generations have access to the same diverse, nutritious and high quality food we enjoy today. ASTA believes improved breeding methods will help meet these needs more efficiently and economically through agriculture practices that preserve natural resources and biodiversity. These new breeding methods are accessible to both public and commercial plant breeders in developed and developing countries, and they can be used across all agriculturally important crops, including food, feed, fiber and fuel crops.


Working with partners around the world on shared missions has been a core function of USW throughout its history. That principle applies whether those partners are wheat growers, customers or even international market competitors. An example of this collaboration was on display last week in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, at the third annual Canadian Global Crops symposium. USW and some of its stakeholders joined more than 250 professionals from the Canadian wheat and grain value chains at the symposium to tackle the big topics facing our industry.

The conference, appropriately themed “Innovation: Opportunity and Challenge,” focused on the application of technology in agriculture and resulting effects on the entire value chain. The broad category of advanced plant breeding techniques, including technologies such as CRISPR-cas9 and TALEN, both commonly referred to as “gene editing,” garnered particular attention. Two seed companies provided detailed explanations of these processes and their applications in breeding programs. Compared to the lengthy process of cross-breeding and its random results, advanced breeding technologies are allowing more precise improvements in plant breeding, in many cases without producing transgenic plants. Grain handling companies and government regulators also provided perspective on the new technologies, including how regulators view the processes and potential challenges that may result from uncoordinated governments’ regulations. USW supports a review process that facilitates industry discussions such as these to ensure compatibility between all governments’ efforts on these new technologies.

During the symposium, the International Grain Trade Coalition (IGTC) held strategy and general sessions. The IGTC includes non-profit trade associations, councils and corporate stakeholders interested in working to support trade in grains, oilseeds and other bulk agricultural products. The organization has multiple working groups that focus on finding solutions to trade irritants and informing discussions on global trade in grains, including expanding the use of electronic documents and harmonization of phytosanitary measures. A number of U.S. and Canadian companies and grower organizations, including USW, are active IGTC members and support its work to better facilitate trade for both our producers and customers around the world.

It is through platforms such as these that both Canadian and U.S. grower organizations are able to work together for the advancement of the entire industry and better serve the needs of the customers we share around the world.

By Dalton Henry, USW Director of Policy


Excerpts from the National Association of Wheat Growers Newsletter.

The United States has a long-history of advancing wheat quality to satisfy the demand of a growing world market for high quality, wholesome grains that become the ingredients of a sophisticated food industry. The National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) — including public wheat breeders, farmers and industry stakeholders — serves a vital role by providing farmers with high quality seed stock so that the United States can produce superior quality wheats demanded by domestic and overseas markets. Unfortunately, wheat research funding relative to the economic viability of U.S. wheat is inadequate

“In many cases, due to the strong dollar, these quality wheats now garner a substantial premium, reflecting their intrinsic end-use functional value,” said USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director Steve Wirsching. “To maintain our competitive advantage in the area of quality, U.S. farmers need new breeding technology that will require continued investment from both public and private sector stakeholders.”

To sustain the research needed to improve U.S. wheat’s position in foreign markets, the NWIC has determined that Congress needs to provide $3.4 million more every year in research funds. As a part of its educational activities, the NWIC brought 21 wheat breeders and stakeholders to Washington, DC, March 15.

Armed with a priority list of critical research appropriation requests, NWIC members made their case with key contacts in USDA and Congress. Their requests included full funding for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative and next-generation genotyping, which will facilitate the application of genomic information and DNA marker technologies for improvement and breeding of wheat, barley and oat varieties.“It is crucial that Congress is aware of the necessity for continued, stable investment in wheat research,” said NWIC Chairman Dr. Paul Murphy, from North Carolina University. “The next decade holds tremendous promise based on emerging technologies that were not possible even five or ten years ago. This is a wonderful time to be a wheat researcher because we are developing technology to improve efficiency, address vulnerabilities such as disease, insect and abiotic stresses, and maintaining the quality of wheat we need to help feed the world.”

The NWIC believes the benefits of increased research investment will cascade from farmers to the world’s millers, bakers, brewers and consumers.

Recently, the USDA has also made a case for agriculture research funding. As reported in Agri-Pulse © on March 16, the leaders of USDA’s research agencies told lawmakers on the House Agriculture Appropriations panel why federal investment in agricultural research is critical to protecting the national food system and supporting American producers. Read the full story from Agri-Pulse here.



“As a neutral forum, FAO has been promoting debates, dialogues and exchanges of information in order to enhance our knowledge of a broad portfolio of tools and approaches to eradicate hunger, fight every form of malnutrition and achieve sustainable agriculture.” That is how Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, opened the recent FAO-hosted international symposium, “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition.”

The symposium focused mainly on the broad range of biotechnologies that could result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, and improved productivity of crops, livestock, fish and trees benefitting family farms. These include many applications such as fermentation processes, bio-fertilizers, artificial insemination, the production of vaccines, disease diagnostics, the development of bio-pesticides and the use of molecular markers in developing new plant varieties.

UN statistics indicate that one out of every nine people in the world is currently unable to eat enough nutrient energy to conduct an active and healthy life. In this context, Graziano da Silva said biotechnologies, knowledge and innovation must be available, accessible and applicable to family farmers and small holders.

Such issues are getting a wide hearing these days, including by the Philippine government Departments of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, and Interior and Local Government. These agencies this week issued a joint ruling expected to lift a temporary ban on research, field-testing, commercialization and importation of genetically modified crops and biotech products in the country imposed by the country’s Supreme Court last December.

The scientific and academic community, farmer groups, traders, food and feed processors, and livestock producers had all criticized the ban. Dr. Emil Q. Javier, a noted Filipino scientist, academician and chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, said the temporary ban helped change public opinion about the science and benefits of genetically modified organisms by drawing attention to the issue and encouraging researchers to raise their voices about such advances in science and technology.

More specific to wheat, leaders from the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) are raising concerns about the economic viability of wheat production in the United States, and promoting the potential role of all new technologies to help.

For example, NAWG is developing a National Wheat Action Plan and a yield contest. In addition, at the recent Commodity Classic event, NAWG’s past president Brett Blankenship said the industry also wants to focus on such improvements in seed technologies as biotechnology and other “new breeding techniques shy of GMO.”

The Washington farmer spoke in favor of advancements in wheat genetics. When asked if he would grow biotech wheat on his own property, Blankenship said that “would be a marketing decision more than an agronomic one.” He pointed to the high volume of Washington wheat exported to markets that are “sensitive” to biotechnology.

For more information about the joint positions of USW and NAWG on agricultural biotechnology, visit here.