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NAWG survey shows wheat producers support biotech traits

By Jennifer M. Latzke

CINNAMON BLISS--Volunteers work at the National Assocaition of Wheat Growers booth during the 2009 Commodity Classic. For the second year in a row the Oklahoma Wheat Commission brought its traveling kitchen to the Classic to offer cinnamon rolls and hot buttered bread samples to attendees. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

The response was crystal clear.

More than 75 percent of U.S. wheat producers say they are ready for the commercialization of biotech traits in wheat, according to the results of a survey conducted by the National Association of Wheat Growers.

NAWG released the results of the biotech survey during the 2009 Commodity Classic, in Grapevine, Texas. The survey was commissioned by NAWG as a project of the NAWG Foundation and questioned wheat growers about their views on commercialization of biotechnological traits in wheat. NAWG representatives have explained that while many wheat producers have stated they would support a biotech trait in their crop, and national organizations have voted to support biotech trait commercialization, private technology providers needed further reassurance.

"Until now, there has only been speculation about the breadth of grower support for biotechnology in wheat," said NAWG CEO Daren Coppock in a NAWG release. "This petition was designed to gather those answers from across our wheat producing areas, and now we have an objective and clear answer."

In a later interview, Coppock said he was pleased with the response from wheat growers to the biotech survey, especially from those states that export a large amount of their wheat to overseas customers.

"The states really were behind the petition," Coppock said. States like Montana and others in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Oklahoma and Colorado showed solid support.

As of the announcement, the survey had a 32 percent response rate, with approval rates similar across states and farm sizes. It was mailed to a list of about 21,000 producers in January and February. Producers surveyed had more than 500 acres of wheat, and 1,000 total acres in production.

In the High Plains Journal/Midwest Ag Journal coverage area, Kansas had the highest number of responses, with 1,448 out of a total 4,530 surveyed. Of those, 76 percent were in support of commercializing biotech wheats.

The other Journal states responded as follows:

--Colorado, 85 percent in favor;

--Missouri, 79 percent in favor;

--Montana, 76 percent in favor;

--Nebraska, 81 percent in favor;

--New Mexico, 92 percent in favor;

--Oklahoma, 79 percent in favor;

--South Dakota, 74 percent in favor;

--and, Texas, 79 percent in favor.

NAWG and many other wheat industry groups believe biotechnology will be key to the future competitiveness of wheat as a crop. With wheat acres on a steady decline, and other crops with biotech traits competing for acres, and the need to feed more people on more acres, biotech has the potential to provide various agronomic and consumer advantages. The survey asked producers what biotech traits they would prefer for commercialization. It also made it clear that "biotech traits" included agronomic benefits such as rust resistance or drought tolerance, as well as quality traits valuable to consumers.

A key to the eventual commercialization of any biotech wheat variety will be the education of foreign and domestic consumers of wheat, and both NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates are ready to meet that goal.

"We've been active in preparing the market for biotech traits in wheat," said NAWG Past President David Cleavinger. Cleavinger, a Texas wheat producer, said both NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates have been active in working with wheat consumers in the wheat chain, both foreign and domestic, to introduce the idea. While it will be six to 10 years before any biotech traits are seen on a commercial level, Cleavinger said, there is some feeling that the market is preparing itself for biotech wheat. Several trait providers at Commodity Classic said they appreciated the feedback from producers and would be considering the survey results in any future research moves.

NAWG will take these results to the public, trait providers and others in the wheat value chain to educate them and to move forward in the progress of commercializing biotech wheat. Both NAWG and USW are also in the process of meeting with Australian and Canadian wheat growers to develop a time line for the release and commercialization of biotech, or transgenic wheat on the world market.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.

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