NAWG biotech update
It’s an exciting time to be a wheat farmer, according to National Association of Wheat Growers President Jerry McReynolds. As the world population is expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, there will be a lot of mouths to feed. McReynolds, who farms in northern Kansas, reminded the Profit Maximizer crowd that wheat accounts for 20 percent of the world’s caloric intake so the future is bright for global demands on cereal grains.
The answer to meeting this demand can include commercialization of biotech wheat. In 2009, NAWG, U.S. Wheat North American Millers’ Association formed a trilateral statement of support and drafted a published document called “The Case for Biotech Wheat.” Drafting the document, McReynolds said, brought the three organizations together to reach a biotech position statement that included principles for communication and a road map toward NAWG biotech update the development of commercial biotech wheat.
Five years ago, the first Wheat Summit took place and since then four more have been held, most recently in April of this year. This event discussed tools the private industry has developed on doubled haploids and the genome mapping process. McReynolds said there are currently 21 chromosomes of wheat—the U.S. is developing four of them—and there is a desperate need to keep research dollars flowing.
“The wheat kernel is five times more complicated than the human body,” he said. “That’s one reason the process is taking so long. Research is also needed on biotech wheat to develop drought tolerance, efficient use of nitrogen and hybrid wheat.”
Biotech wheat has proven to reduce plant pests and disease and increase productivity. As a crop, wheat is under pressure due to declining land area and as yield growth falls behind competing crops. Three years ago NAWG held a strategic planning session, which set a goal to increase wheat yields by 20 percent by 2018.
The U.S. biotech industry is well-regulated and is proven safe for performance and quality. McReynolds said a recent national petition among wheat growers indicates 76 percent of producers support the biotech wheat industry. This means an investment in wheat research must be made to keep the U.S. moving forward.
“Innovation is needed,” McReynolds said. “Wheat has fallen behind and the world needs food.”