With our world’s rapidly increasing population and growing demand for food, innovation in the agricultural industry is more important than ever,” said Steelee Fischbacher, of Texas Wheat Producers. “Wheat is one of the most widely consumed agricultural products, and is a staple of many American diets.”
Currently, scientists throughout the world are working diligently to ensure the progress of hybrid wheat technology. Researchers are investigating wheat’s intricate genome in order to advance these new hybrid crops to reach farmer’s fields by 2020 according to Syngenta Seeds.
The idea of developing hybrid wheat is similar to hybrid corn; researchers take a male plant and cross it with a low pollinating female plant in order to develop a new, hybrid plant.
However, it is the female plant that will serve as the seed plant to be pollinated from its male counterpart. The plants need to be distant in their genetic relation, this provides more genetic variety and ultimately a higher chance that the resulting plant will possess genes that are superior.
This is the process through which scientist create plants that produce higher yields, have better quality grain, and are more resistant to disease, pests and drought. This is called hybrid vigor.
By knowing how hybrid vigor results in a plant that is often hardier and more resource efficient, it is easier to understand why these new hybrid wheat crops are more successful at producing larger yields than their predecessors. These improvements in the wheat crop may only allow growers to benefit from more profits and navigate a rapidly changing agricultural market.
Members of the wheat growing community have high hopes for the cleverly designed new plant.
“I think hybrid technology would give you the ability to bring in more bushels to wheat, to help defend itself against the environment from diseases and rust, as well as increase yield,” said Steve Joehl, director of research and technology for the National Association of Wheat Growers.
Joehl explained how hybrid wheat could be a game changer for many growers,
“It has that potential, and if we could get it here, it would help increase the productivity of wheat so the farmer is more competitive with corn and soybeans and now has another alternative plant to think about planting.”
While the development of hybrid wheat has been under research for many years, Joel explained that the reality of seed production may be possible as soon as the year 2020 according to Syngenta Seeds.
The future of hybrid wheat is incredibly promising.
“You have to think these companies are seeing a pretty good response here or they wouldn’t be continuing to invest,” Joehl said. “So they must think there is some potential there in the return on yield to continue the program.”
Each new project contributes vital information that broadens the entire field’s understanding of wheat and its genetics, bringing others closer to achieving success. And with seed producers continuing to invest in biological research projects, the chances of scientific success are high and the future of hybrid wheat is hopeful.
Mapping The Wheat Genome
Joehl also described one of the most groundbreaking topics of these projects, the pursuit of mapping the entirety of the wheat genome.
“Scientists around the world teamed up and were actually able to sequence the wheat genome in its entirety, giving researchers around the world a more complete understanding of the genetic makeup of the plant.”
A genome is a complete catalog of a plant or animal’s genetic information, and the common wheat plant has a genome that is six times larger than a human. This international effort will enable biologists to make more informed decisions as they attempt to strategically breed strains of wheat in the pursuit of the genetic gold standard.
“The more we understand about hybrid wheat, as well as the genetic makeup of its components, the more we advance our understanding of plant technology and is likely we’re going to crack the code to develop hybrid wheat,” said Joehl.
This potentially never-ending task of “cracking the genetic code” now has major seed companies interested in investing in hybrid technology towards creating a groundbreaking line of hybrid seed: one with higher yields and is sustainable from natural resources.
The financial reward of developing this coveted strain of “super wheat” is potentially invaluable, as wheat is grown on more than 531 million acres of land in the world, according to National Association of Wheat Growers.
“I think it’s an evolution of knowing more of the science of plants that is causing a lot of companies to look at hybrid technology for wheat. They have in the past and couldn’t crack it, something now has changed that gained more understanding about it and therefore they are investing in it,” said Joehl.
Asking The Farmer
However, this new technology is not immediately convincing everyone, especially the individuals cultivating the crop. Wheat farmer Lincoln Devault from Farwell, Texas, explains why some farmers could be hesitant on adopting hybrid wheat.
“It’s hard to get a farmer to change his ways but if you can prove to him enough that the yield difference works and he’s going to get more money in his pocket, then it would be doable,” said Lincoln. “The bottom line for us is money. Taking wheat to grain basically makes nothing, so that’s why we graze it out.”
Devault Farms takes pride in grazing their livestock on wheat and plans to stay that way until a higher, more protein packed, option is available.
However, Fischbacher claims there is more than meets the eye with hybrid wheat.
“We’re growing wheat at .9 percent per year, but to meet global food needs by 2050 we need to be increasing by 1.7 percent per year,” claimed Fischbacher, who went on to explain that farmers can accomplish this increase in crop efficiency in one of two ways “by increasing your acres,” or “by increasing production.”
Fischbacher went on to explain that due to the limited availability of farmland, increasing one’s acreage is not always an option, and that hybrid wheat gives a grower the opportunity to increase yield while maintaining or even decreasing one’s wheat acreage and concluded that the ultimate goal of developing hybrid wheat is to “catch up with the future needs for human consumption as well increase producer profitability.”
Last year, the United States had the largest wheat crop in the world. However, countries around the globe are struggling to produce wheat at a rate fast enough to ensure that our food supply will be able to support the population in the year 2050 according to Fischbacher.
“Food shortage is already a prevalent crisis around the world, but with advances in hybrid wheat, farmers may be able to produce wheat quickly enough to combat hunger and efficiently enough to protect the globes food security,” said Fischbacher.
“It should protect our wheat supply at home and the wheat supply that the world needs,” said Fischbacher. “The future of hybrid wheat is incredibly promising and its potential benefits could improve the lives of farmers and consumers everywhere.”