GENET archive


2-Plants: U.S. biotech lobby group calls for GE wheat

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Facing a challenging future, wheat looking at increased biotech
SOURCE: Farm & Ranch Guide, USA, by Dale Hildebrant
DATE:   28 Sep 2005

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Facing a challenging future, wheat looking at increased biotech research

Those taking part in the recent NDSU Crop Biotechnology Update
Conference- (left to right) D.C. Coston, NDSU vice president for
Agriculture; Sherman Reese, president of National Association of Wheat
Growers; Duane Berglund, NDSU Extension agronomist and organizer of the
conference; Chuck Lambert, USDA undersecretary of agriculture for
regulatory programs; and Al Skogen, Valley City area farmer and chairman
of "Growers for Biotech."

FARGO, N.D. - If biotech research for wheat continues to lag behind that
of other crops, wheat could, within the next few years, become a
secondary crop in this region. That was the dire prediction from two
wheat growers who addressed the Crop Biotech Update Conference in Fargo,
N.D. on Sept. 21.

National Association of Wheat Growers President Sherman Reese said the
national average for wheat production is around 40 bushels per acre and
that hasn't changed for several years, and, as wheat input costs continue
to increase, growing wheat isn't penciling out for many farmers anymore.

"If we don't turn things around in the next 10 years, wheat will cease to
be a major crop in this country," he said.

Reese, who grows wheat near Pendleton, Ore., stressed that wheat
producers need to lower the cost of production, raise yields or both.
"The quickest way to accomplish this is to use biotech traits to improve
our bottom line," he said.

However, biotech research for wheat has slowed considerably in the last
few months after Monsanto practically eliminated its biotech wheat
research citing economic reasons. The company made this decision after a
period of time when those opposed to biotech advancements in crops were
finally able to focus their criticism to wheat research, since biotech
traits for other crops such as corn, soybeans, canola and cotton, had
been readily accepted by farmers and the consumers.

Although this opposition was mainly concentrated on the Roundup® Ready
trait, other biotech work on such things as Fusarium head blight and
drought tolerant wheat also slowed to a crawl.

Al Skogen, a wheat grower from Valley City, N.D., and chairman of Growers
for Biotech, emphasized the need for wheat biotech research by citing
some numbers from his own operation.

"Weed control was the greatest challenge in soybean production pre-
biotech, many times costing over $30 per acre with very marginal weed
control and obvious crop injury," Skogen noted. "Today we have weed-free
fields while spending less than $15 per acre on chemical and tech fees.
Looking at corn, the chemical cost could easily be over $40 per acre
while getting poor control of weeds and insects. This year we spent under
$6 on chemical plus tech fees and yet there were no weeds, and no corn borer."

Wheat production, on the other hand, didn't present nearly a pretty a
picture this year for Skogen.

"On my farm we lost 30 to 40 percent of our potential yield due to scab
and will take another 5 to 10 percent loss in price. Our chemical cost
was over $30 per acre," he noted. "These problems resulted in a per
bushel cost of production of over $4, which was a 75-cent per bushel
loss. Solve my scab and herbicide cost problems with Roundup Ready and
scab resistant traits and all of a sudden my per unit cost goes to about
$2.30, which now represents a $1 dollar per bushel profit.

Using these examples from his own farm business, Skogen made the
following observation: "Because soybeans and corn are more profitable,
easier to raise and with the new biotech traits soon to be available,
they appear to have an exciting future. Wheat, on the other hand has
nothing to look forward to it will struggle to hold its place at the top
of our crop acreage mix."

Skogen also named some other factors about plant biotechnology.

- First, the use of genetically modified foods is absolutely safe, he
said. Biotech crops are the most thoroughly tested and evaluated food
components in our history. The use of more precise technology and greater
regulatory scrutiny probably make biotech-derived foods even safer than
conventionally or organically produced foods.

- The potential benefit to the environment is truly huge. Biotech
research has already conserved million of tons of soil through less
tillage and the reduction of millions of pounds of active chemical
pesticides has resulted in a massive reduction in ground and surface
water contamination. Skogen believes that the adoption of this technology
will soon be recognized as having more potential positive impact on the
environment than any in the history of production agriculture.

- Consumers around the world are getting very comfortable with this
technology. For example, just a few days ago the Environment Minister in
Denmark, a country that has vehemently opposed GMO food, said their
country is ready to authorize the importation of GM maize, saying "If
well used GMO technology holds great opportunities." She also added, "it
can play a large role in the fight against poverty in developing countries."

Skogen issued challenges to various groups represented at the biotech
conference in hopes that, through a combined effort, biotech research,
especially in the area of wheat, will expand.

- University research and extension - listen to what the industry is
saying from the producer to the consumer and then whole-heartedly engage
in solving the problems brought to you and accept the primary
responsibility of requiring and upholding a standard of credibility that
enables the growth of this technology.

- Private research and development - listen to the needs of the industry,
be open to solutions and continue to work with public research as a way
to expedite safe and credible technology.

- Millers and bakers - work with the wheat industry to prepare your
plants, processes, procurement and your customers for the coming of this
technology. Also let your needs by known to technology developers so they
can find ways to compliment your business through biotech research.

- World trade partners - educate your people about the potential of this
technology to solve existing food quality and supply problems, and make
sure the education is based on credible scientific research and fact.

- Biotech detractors-be fair and alert continue to police the growth of
this technology, but be open-minded and above all, weigh all the evidence
in a balanced manner. Maintain a dialogue and participate in the solution
development process.

- Media - be fair, unbiased and available and take time to be educated
about the issues - your part is critical.

In closing, Skogen said, "We all have to share in the educational
process; to teach consumers and key decision makers about credible
scientific evidence of the issues of safety, environmental impact and
potential health and hunger benefits. This we should do as a
responsibility to the well-being of God's earth and his people."


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