A University of Idaho collaboration with farmer-owned Limagrain Cereal Seeds to produce and market new wheat varieties in the Northwest is clearly a win-win partnership, says UI's newest wheat breeder.
"The arrangement enhances and complements us both," says Jack Brown, who was just assigned to add wheat breeding to his busy canola, rapeseed and mustard development at UI.
Limagrain and UI will share the wealth in varieties they develop on a 50-50 basis, while other cultivars may become either university or company properties, depending on the development expenditure spent by either.
"It is a complicated situation, and even those varieties fully developed by UI may become Limagrain products if they contract to market them," says Brown. "The agreement is a very flexible one."
But it will be many years before the first Limagrain-UI wheat will see commercialization, explains Brown, since the first crosses under the 2012 partnership agreement were just made last year.
There's nothing unique to the industry in the private-public institution collaboration on wheat, he notes, although the agreement marks a first for UI.
Limagrain wheat research vice president Jim Peterson labels the UI agreement "the most integrated we have with any U.S. university."
What Limagrain brings to the table is a wealth of European germ plasm that the international firm has amassed, and UI brings its regional germ plasm resources and 100% years of area expertise that the company that has been in the Northwest for only two-and-a-half years lacks.
"Limagrain also brings the capability of testing wheat cultivars across the Pacific Northwest," adds Brown, noting that the firms PNW office in Waitsburg, Wash., facilitates a beneficial pan-Northwest market potential for new releases.
On the UI side, "we bring our Extension Service capability that allows testing throughout the state," he adds.
Limagrain, founded in France in 1942 as a co-op, is the largest seed company in the European Union and the biggest cereal seed producer in the world, deciding to establish a U.S. headquarters in Fort Collins in recent years.
"What the agreement does is greatly broaden our genetic base," says Brown. "Benefits are tremendous."
While new to UI's wheat breeding program, Brown has been on the job at the university for 20 years, gaining a reputation for his development of IdaGold mustard, used by the nation's largest mustard makers.
Based in Moscow, Idaho, he has been involved in oilseed breeding of canola and rapeseed as well, and will continue his oilseed duties.
But he is no novice in grains, having focused on barley in the past.
"We are fortunate to have a successful plant breeder on staff that has the diverse experience working with crops and growers," says John Foltz, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences interim dean.
The need for the move is clear to Brown, who explains that it takes up to a decade to develop a new wheat. "If we have a gap of several years with no northern Idaho breeder, that delays the ability of growers to adapt to changing market demands and capitalize on new discoveries," he says.
Part of what he and UI brings to the Limagrain program, he notes, is the university's extensive end-use studies matching new varieties to those changing market needs.