Tucked away in the Flint Hills just south of I-70’s Exit 303 near Junction City, Syngenta has built an amazing Hard Red Winter wheat breeding center, which the company showed off to visitors at its “Greenhouse Tailgate Tour” on October 27.
In 1999, Syngenta bought a century farm in Geary County that had been homesteaded in 1870 and was once used to warehouse feed for General George Custer’s horses. The company has since updated the place with new laboratory, research and greenhouse buildings.
*As part of the purchase agreement, the sellers asked that the site continue to look like a farm; i.e. barn, outbuildings, etc. The original farmhouse contains offices for some of the location’s 18 employees). It is a beautiful farm, in a gorgeous location.
The Tour was an opportunity for Syngenta to showcase a new greenhouse for its hybrid wheat breeding program. The company’s hybrid wheat experts, Dustin Ridder and Randy Rich, agree that hybrid wheat can offer yield stability for wheat farmers; in particular, a chance to improve wheat yields in fields with variable soil types and qualities. By the end of this decade, Syngenta expects to have hybrid wheat available to farmers. The company has made hybrid barley work successfully in Europe; it believes it can use the same principles to make hybrid wheat work in the U.S.
*Mr. Rich, incidentally, once worked for Monsanto’s HybriTech hybrid wheat program.
Syngenta is a global company, with more than 400 people working on cereal crops (including wheat, barley and canola) around the world. More than $130 million is spent on wheat research each year, including variety and hybrid development, plus crop protection products.
“What we’re trying to do is to think how a farmer would think: ‘how do we maximize return on our investment?'” explains Jon Rich, wheat breeder at the Junction City location. “For a breeder, the focus is always yield. We can test our company’s portfolio of chemistries to see how to achieve yield stability.”
Syngenta – which sells certified wheat seed through its AgriPro dealer network – will continue to use the tried-and-true techniques of traditional breeding to find new varieties. But technology allows the company’s wheat breeders to use new means of trait discovery, such as genetic markers (which allow native trait identification in seedlings) and doubled haploid technology, which can speed variety development time. And tomorrow’s technology includes hybridization to improve yield and yield stability, and to discover and deploy traits for water and nutrient use, disease resistance and herbicide tolerance.
“Globally, farmers grow half a billion acres of wheat. But wheat is not nearly as technified as other crops,” Syngenta’s Dreger says. “There is tremendous opportunity wheat.”