Monsanto cut the ribbon on its new Wheat Technology Center last week among high enthusiasm from wheat growers.
The center will serve as Monsanto’s core wheat breeding research and development facility, bringing together some of the nation’s top researchers to maximize collaboration and spur innovation, said Kristin Schneider, Monsanto’s global wheat breeding lead.
Wheat is essential to the solution of feeding a growing world population, and technology is central to that vision, she said.
“We know we have the tools and technology to feed a growing world. This site will bring those tools together for wheat,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer and World Food Prize Laureate.
Technology will allow the world to farm even better, more precisely, to feed the additional 3 billion to 4 billion people by 2050, he said.
“We’re all here to celebrate the opening of this site and talk about the importance of science in food production,” he said.
Wheat, grown in 42 states in the U.S., is at a crossroads, said National Association of Wheat Growers President Brett Blankenship, a wheat grower at Washtucna, Wash.
Wheat has lagged behind production advancements in other crops, such as corn and soybeans, costing the industry in competitiveness, he said.
As recently as 1992, wheat was the No. 1 U.S planted crop with just shy of 90 million acres. Wheat acreage has dropped to about 56 million acres today, he said.
“We need to reverse that trend. We need this type of innovation in wheat; technology and innovation are the future for wheat,” he said.
Some of the techniques and processes used at the Wheat Technology Center include doubled haploid breeding technology, as well as seed chipping and marker-assisted breeding technologies, allowing researchers to sample seeds and look for “DNA fingerprints” associated with certain characteristics before planting, said Ben Eberle, Monsanto communications manager for wheat, cotton and specialty crops.
These advanced techniques reduce the time required for variety development, helping researchers respond more quickly and efficiently to challenges wheat growers face on their farms, he said.
No biotech research is taking place at the center, he said.
The Wheat Technology Center expansion at Monsanto’s vegetable research facility at Filer added 14,000 square feet of greenhouse growing space and enhanced laboratory space and 10,000 square feet of seed processing, Eberle said.
The expansion, announced in the fall of 2013, represents a $60 million investment, which includes additional equipment and facilities at five testing operations across the country, he said.
Burley, Idaho, wheat grower Wayne Hurst, a National Wheat Foundation director, past president of NAWG and Idaho Grain Producers Association, said the tech center is a wonderful, state-of-the-art investment in the future of wheat.
“This is going to help us to be more profitable and productive and allow us to be more competitive,” he said.
Wheat represents 20 percent of the world’s calories, and demand continues to grow. The U.S. is losing out to other countries that are stepping up to fill the need, he said.
Much of the research in wheat has been funded by growers through public programs. Now multinational private companies are investing in wheat to take the same technology used to advance other crops and apply it to wheat, and the wheat industry has promoted those advancements, he said.
“It’s an exciting time to be in wheat,” he said.