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Technology is yielding new insights for improving wheat


Syngenta’s research investment will have farmers set for the future.

17 January 2020

Muriel Cozier

By 2022 farmers growing wheat can expect to have new seeds with improved traits available, reversing the lag in wheat development compared with crops such as corn and rice.

To address the issue of falling wheat yields Syngenta, one of the world’s leading agricultural companies, used an R&D Showcase in London on 15 January 2020 to highlight the work that it is doing to prepare wheat growers for the future.

Wheat is the world’s largest crop by acreage and the UK’s most widely grown arable crop. Despite its importance, the story of wheat has been one of diminishing yields. According to data from the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs yields dropped from 14.8 million tonnes in 2017 to 14.1 million tonnes in 2018 - a decrease of 5.1%. While this fall was attributed to weather conditions, uncertainty over climate trends and a growing global population means that reversing any decline is crucial.

Commenting on the current situation for wheat farmers Gary Mills-Thomas, Syngenta Wheat Commercial, said that there were several reasons for the plateau in wheat yields.  ‘Changes in climate, resistance and the availability of chemicals for pest control are among the factors that are impacting wheat volumes. But crucially there has been a lack of investment in developing improvements in wheat traits.’ Mills-Thomas explained that research and development on wheat had lagged behind those seen in other crops such as rice and corn.

With wheat farmers facing an array of challenges, accelerating innovation is critical. Syngenta’s Robert Hiles gave an overview of the tools that the company has available to increase the speed at which new developments could be made available to farmers. Molecular biology, use of big data and breeding techniques are among the suite of techniques that Syngenta has at its disposal, Hiles explained.

Syngenta’s research will benefit farmers in many ways. Improvements will include higher biomass, better nutrient uptake and more grains per ear ultimately leading to a positive impact on yield consistency, benefiting the farmer. Taking the best hybrid combinations and working with key partners the company expects to be able to make its hybrid wheat available first to farmers in France during 2022.

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