The Status of Roundup Ready Wheat

...and other items from the National Wheat Conference. Bill Spiegel

Published on: Feb 1, 2004

With millions of dollars invested in Roundup Ready technology for spring wheat already and no idea of when - or even if - the technology will be released to farmers, Monsanto has asked wheat growers for support.

At last month's Wheat Industry Conference in Atlanta, Monsanto presented the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (WETEC) with a letter asking the groups to publicly announce their full support for timely deregulation and commercialization of Roundup Ready wheat. Monsanto also asked the groups to help develop a strategy to educate growers and consumers about the safety of genetically modified (GM) wheat.

Monsanto says Roundup Ready wheat is intended only for spring wheat growers – which means Kansas farmers have little to gain by that form of transgenic wheat. However, the company points out that Roundup Ready wheat is a "pathway to other genetically modified wheat varieties" that could offer a host of benefits to wheat growers: traits such as drought tolerance and rust resistance on the production side and nutritional benefits on the consumer side.

Publicly, the three groups support biotech wheat, but privately, some wheat growers are concerned that foreign buyers of U.S. wheat will reject the technology.

John Thaemert, secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Wheat Growers, says this: "The difference is that corn is a feedgrain and soybeans are a feedgrain, and oil seed. Wheat is a foodgrain. It is a little different. That's why there is concern."

Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Wheat Growers and chairman of the wheat industry’s joint biotech committee, says the committee will meet this month to generate a response to Monsanto's question, then circulate the response among state organizations before ultimately developing a response to Monsanto.

Wheat growers turn ethanol model upside down

Meanwhile, the Wheat Industry Conference provides growers with opportunities to learn about new technologies.

The manager of an Idaho limited liability corporation presented an overview of their new idea on how to produce ethanol from wheat, barley and corn.

Treasure Valley Renewable Resources, LLC – made of farmer and non-farmer investors -- is building a $70-million plant at Fruitland, Idaho, to extract high-value products such as food grade ingredients, neutraceuticals and aquaculture feed from wheat, barley and corn, and produce ethanol and carbon dioxide as byproducts.

Their approach is 180 degrees off the Midwest model for ethanol production, in which cooperatives have built plants to produce ethanol as the primary product and livestock feed as the byproduct.

But in the Midwest, state incentives have helped build those plants. No such incentives exist for plants in Idaho and many other states.

"We are going to get our profit from the market place," says John Hamilton, manager, Treasure Valley Renewaable Resource, LLC, Fruitland, ID.

Treasure Valley will use a process called fractionalization to extract different ingredients from wheat, barley and corn. It’s not new technology. Several European countries have been fractionalizing grains for decades. One plant in the U.S. processes corn first for food and other ingredients and then turns what’s left into ethanol. Treasure Valley will be the first to combine fractionalization, ethanol production and eventually biodiesel production into one facility.

Financing for the plant is in place and construction is expected to start in the fall. The plant is expected to begin operation in the fall of 2005.