Bayer plans to make major investment in Nebraska wheat

Bayer CropScience’s emergence in the wheat breeding arena is big news for Nebraska. The German-based company recently announced it will establish its first North American wheat breeding station near Lincoln, on a 300-acre site yet to be determined.

At the 2010 Ag Classic in Kearney, Bayer and Lincoln-based NUtech Ventures described a licensing agreement between the two that will make $2 million available for an endowed professorship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The agreement “also includes support for UNL research and education programs,” said Garth Hodges, global manager for wheat and oilseeds with the company. Bayer also will work with Nebraska farmers in seed production activities.

When the station is in place within the next two to three years, Hodges said, it will bring 20 to 30 scientists to Nebraska.

Bayer, a leader in cereal crop production, recently announced it is entering wheat breeding and technology development. Under the agreement, Bayer will gain access to UNL’s wheat germplasm, the genetic material used to develop new wheat varieties.

At a glance

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However, according to David Conrad, director of NUtech Ventures, the agreement allows both Bayer and UNL to improve their respective wheat breeding programs.

“It also preserves NUtech’s ability to collaborate with other companies and universities,” he said. NUtech is a nonprofit research corporation that forms partnerships between UNL researchers and those from the private sector.

Stephen Baenziger, UNL wheat breeder known for his development of wheat varieties geared to Nebraska and the Great Plains, will be the first to hold the Nebraska Wheat Growers Presidential Chair at UNL, a position named for the state wheat growers association.

“Stephen Baenziger is responsible for the research that made this partnership possible,” Conrad said.

“It’s a wonderful day for wheat and for the University of Nebraska,” Baenziger said during the Kearney press conference. “My predecessors built this program, and as part of a team involving university, federal, industry and grower cooperators, we have tried to enhance its state, regional, national and global reach.”

He also cited the opportunities created for students through the partnership, including funding for scholarships. “It is a great way to get students interested in wheat breeding.”

Benefits to Nebraska

Bayer officials said agreements of this type benefit the Nebraska wheat growers because they will have a greater selection of improved varieties from both public and private wheat breeding programs.

Larry Flohr, Nebraska Wheat Board chairman from Chappell, described the partnership as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that builds upon 25 years of wheat investments by the checkoff. We’re happy that Bayer believes this is the place they want to be.”

“The future for me just got a whole lot brighter,” said Shawn Sullivan, the president of the Nebraska Wheat Growers Association from Wallace. “I will be excited to see new wheat varieties released that will be successful on my farm.”

Work at the research station involving scientists from both Bayer and UNL will focus on varieties with improved yield and disease resistance. Biotech traits will eventually be part of the research efforts. In the biotech arena, wheat has lagged significantly behind other major crops, including corn and soybeans.

“This agreement with Bayer CropScience permits the university to continue releasing wheat varieties through the same channels as in the past,” said Susan Fritz, interim dean of the Agricultural Research Division at UNL.

Bayer buys Ukrainian wheat programs

Bayer CropScience is expanding its wheat breeding program in another way in addition to the new station. It recently announced the acquisition of wheat breeding programs from two Ukrainian companies — Sort and Eurosort — based in Mironivka, close to the capital of Kiev.

The purchase allows Bayer CropScience to gain access to wheat lines with excellent winter hardiness and drought tolerance, says Hartmut van Lengerich, head of Crop Strategy Cereals, Oilseeds and Sugar Beets at Bayer. “Wheat is a strategic crop for Bayer CropScience, and as part of its investment plans, the company is putting significant resources into research and development to raise productivity of wheat cropping,” he says.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.