Archive for the ‘research’ Category

Why is Everyone Interested in Wheat Breeding?

September 26, 2009

As I have noted before on this site, this summer has been very interesting in terms of the changing landscape in wheat research and breeding. Monsanto, Bayer, and Syngenta are all engaged in the wheat breeding game. I have received, many emails from readers, asking the same question.

“What will this mean for my farm in the future?”

This is a great question. One can only speculate at this point but from a genetics standpoint it does really provide some interesting potential outcomes. Higher yields and lower environmental impacts are the most discussed by breeders and stakeholders. The other side of this discussion is the questions around saved seed and the possibilities of technology use agreements. In my mind if the product has benefits to the farmer, the farmer will pay for the technology. If there is no advantage then the farmer will not pay. This is simple economics and applicable in any market segment and not just agriculture. I think that it is silly for people to suggest that farmers are forced to buy hybrid seed. In my experience, farmers that have the right land and environmental conditions, demand hybrid seed. If you don’t have the proper land or conditions use choose other options.

The following video was produced by Monsanto but shows why wheat is such an important crop to farmers and seed companies.

The reality is that the future really is wide open for global wheat production. With large biotech companies now engaged the next ten years will prove to be interesting at the very least. On top of this is the huge contribution that conventional breeders will provide. Wheat is the global staple crop. There is a wheat harvest happening every month of the year somewhere in the world.

The following video with Jay Bradshaw, President of Syngenta Canada discusses why biotech wheat will have benefits and why the variety registration system is too slow to enable innovation. It was filmed in February 2009.

Please let me know what you think about the future of wheat. What kind of improvements would you like to see in wheat vareties?


Dave Zino – What is the NCBA Culinary Center

September 25, 2009

Dave Zino is the Executive Director of the NCBA Beef Culinary Center in Chicago. I had a chance to meet Dave at the Elanco Beef Consultants Forum 2009 in Banff earlier this month. Dave is a truly fascinating guy who has a real passion for how beef is cooked and trying to educate the public on how it should be cooked to truly enjoy the beef eating experience. Dave is an asset to the beef industry and I encourage you to watch the video below to get a better idea of the value the NCBA Culinary Center creates for the industry.

I encourage you to check out to see some of the great work that Dave and his team do. For all of you Facebook lovers become a fan of the Beef Its Whats for Dinner Facebook Page as well.

RIP Norman Borlaug – A Great Man Discovers Greener Pastures

September 23, 2009

The following article was published on and It was written by Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, who chairs Truth About Trade & Technology

Norman Borlaug once told me that he would trade away all of his life’s accomplishments just for the chance to play second base for the Chicago Cubs.Thank goodness he couldn’t hit home runs or field ground balls as well as Ryne Sandberg! Billions of people are better off for it.
Borlaug, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was one of the great men of our time. Perhaps you’ve read a few of the obituaries. He was called “the father of the Green Revolution.” He won the Nobel Peace Prize. His pioneering work on high-yield crop varieties changed the way the world feeds itself.
There were a lot of differences between me and Norm, starting with baseball: I’m a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, the arch-rivals of the Cubs. Yet I’ve always felt a slight kinship with him because both of us grew up on farms in northeast Iowa, about 30 miles away from each other.
One day, he returned home, as he often did. This time, however, he was a celebrity because he had accepted his Nobel Prize just ten days earlier. At a church in Cresco, he talked about what he had learned: “In Iowa, we live in a privileged world,” he said. “We take the prayer, ‘give us our daily bread’ as automatic and always so. But it isn’t for half of the people of the world, who go hungry several times a week.”

Norman Borlaug Discusses Biotech Benefits
by biotechconversations

I wish I could say that I was in attendance at that particular gathering in 1970. (My knowledge of this event comes from an account in the Des Moines Register.) I didn’t have the benefit of meeting Norm until a number of years later. Since then, I’ve listened to him speak many times. His energy and intelligence always struck me. He was active into his nineties, supporting advances such as genetically modified plants.
Norm’s most impressive quality was his profound humility. He felt embarrassed to be called “the father of the Green Revolution” because he knew that so many people had contributed to its success.
Yet he truly deserved the honor. “Through his work in the laboratory and in the wheat fields,” said the chairman of the Nobel committee, Borlaug “has helped to create a new food situation in the world and … has turned pessimism into optimism in the dramatic race between population explosion and our production of food.”
Consider just one example of Norm’s impact: In the 1960s, Indian farmers were able to adopt the tools of the Green Revolution and increase their wheat production in just four years by an order greater than had been achieved in the previous four millennia.
I once experienced a role reversal with Norm. I was giving a talk and he was in the audience. I knew he was out there. It made me a little uncomfortable. This was no time to mess up.
I made one of my standard points: Without advances in technology, farmers wouldn’t be able to feed all of the people in the world. Afterward, Norm approached me and said that I was wrong.
Uh oh. Who was I to disagree with him? The surest way to lose an argument is to start one with Norman Borlaug.
Norm, however, reinforced my point by making it in a more powerful way. “We’ll always feed the people who are here,” he said. “The question is, which ones won’t be here?”
Thanks to the ingenuity of Norm and many others, a billion extra people are probably alive today. Maybe two billion.
None of this was inevitable. About forty years ago, lots of people, including distinguished scientists, worried about the “population bomb.” They believed that a growing global population would outpace the availability of natural resources, leading to widespread famine and death.
This may be Norm’s greatest legacy: Before catastrophe struck, he defused the “population bomb.”
A lot of American kids dream of playing in the big leagues. Only a lucky few earn the opportunity. Even fewer, however, accomplish as much as this Iowa farm boy.
The Cubs will always have a second baseman. We’ll never have another Norman Borlaug.

Animal Activists Cross the Line with Novartis

September 7, 2009

One of the great things about living in North America is that you can share your opinion freely. Whether you read this blog or others that share the counter point, you can provide opinion without fear of being burned at the stake or put on a firing line. This morning I was on Twitter and stumbled upon a story taking about the recent acts of an animal activist faction. This group of animal activist radicals has torched the home and vandalized the family grave sites of Novartis CEO, Dan Vasella. Now the animal activists have the ashes of one of Vasella’s deceased family members and will only return the urn to him if Novartis stops engaging in business activities with Huntingdon Life Sciences.
I think that this is not expressing your right to speak out against what you feel is wrong. This is criminal type behavior which should come with punishment. I am always curious as to what this is supposed to accomplish. Do groups like this feel that this will engage fringe supporters? there is no business practice that Novartis could be engaging in that would ever justify the torching of the CEO’s family home. This is not speaking up for animal rights this is breaking the law. Somehow radical people seem to think that animal rights are more important the rights and safety of humans. Absolutely bizarre the way that animal rights activists justify behavior.

Why Winter Wheat – Ross McKenzie, PhD – Lethbridge Research Station

August 22, 2009

Ross McKenzie, PhD of the Lethbridge Research Station talks about the agronomic considerations for winter wheat. Ross explains seeding dates, plant populations, nutrient requirements, specific variety considerations and seeding depth.

Winter wheat is a great crop with many benefits. Planting winter wheat is a great way to lower the amount of workload in the spring and creates a much more spread out harvest.

ILC 2009: Dr. Alastair Cribb – Making Decisions Based on Science Versus Emotion

August 9, 2009

At the International Livestock Congress I talked to Dr. Alastair Cribb, Dean. Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Calgary about the balance between making decisions based on science versus emotion.  Sometimes this can be a very grey area and will continue to be in the future as both scientific advancement and emotions increase.  

See more ILC 2009 content

Dr. Jim Helm and the Lacombe Field Day

August 5, 2009

Jim Helm
Last week I attended the Lacombe Research Station Field Day in Lacombe Alberta. I thought that it was a great time and I picked up some things about a couple varieties that I was unaware of. This is the first time that I have attended this event but based on my experience I will definitely be attending again in the future.

Dr. Jim Helm, Plant Breeder/Head of Research, Field Crop Development Centre, has been contributing to the advancement of feed grains in Canada for 36 years. In the above photo Dr. Helm was commenting on how you breed for drought and fertilizer efficiency. Dr. Helm commented that you simply breed for yield based on the given conditions experienced by the plant. Dr. Helm is great for getting seedsmen, industry and farmers to reconsider the way we are doing something. One of his famous talks is regarding why most feedyards pay for barley based on bushel weight instead of feed value.

See the photo slide show from my trip the Lacombe Field Day
Dr. Helm is responsible for barley varieties like Vivar, Lacombe, Harper, Falcon and Mahigan.

ILC 2009: Part 1 – Dr. Bruce German The Future of the Personalized Diet

July 23, 2009

I firmly believe that the food system and farmers will always adjust to changes in eating patterns in the world.  Dr. Bruce German of the University of California, Davis describes one of these changes. He believes that the notion that there is an ideal diet for everyone is nonsense.  Dr. German feels that creating technologies on and off farm to supply the personalized diet is essential to the evolution of food consumption. 

More International Livestock Congress Content   

ILC 2009: Earl Geddes – VP at CWB – Wheat Breeding and the Future of Biotech Wheat

July 22, 2009

In case you have not been following the story very closely, the debate over biotech wheat is about to restart again. Cereal breeding in North America has been on the downtrend. The past three months have brought wheat breeding investments by Dow Agro, Monsanto and Bayer. These strategic moves are quite obviously being executed so that beneficial proprietary traits can be inserted into wheat genetics. As mentioned before on this site, many possibilities open up to the consumer and not just the farmer if biotech wheat is introduced. At the International Livestock Congress at the Calgary Stampede, Earl Geddes and I discussed the future direction of wheat breeding and how biotech wheat may lead us there.

Check out more International Livestock Congress content

Richard Phillips – Executive Director of the Grain Growers of Canada on Biotech Wheat

June 2, 2009

This afternoon I talked to Richard Phillips, Executive Director of the Grain Growers of Canada about the possible introduction of biotech wheat to the agricultural system. The Grain Growers of Canada were members of the Biotech Wheat Coalition that is trying to push the international community to support biotech wheat.

Shaun: Why is the Grain Growers of Canada supporting the idea of biotech wheat?

Phillips: A major reason is the concern that we have over the slow rate of research development in conventional wheat vareties. If you look at the other crop types that have biotech traits, they are developing nutritional, agronomic and yield benefits. If wheat stays conventional the result could be that wheat becomes a rotation filler in between cash crops for most wheat farmers.

Shaun: What are the possible resulting benefits of biotech wheat?

Phillips: We need to send a strong message to public breeding institutions, Syngenta, and small biotech firms to bring new innovations forward to the market. These innovations could include nitrogen efficiency, heat tolerance, fusarium resistance, or cold tolerance. Non-agronomic benefits are in improvements to the milling process and further benefits to the consumer. Consumer benefits include things like health traits.

I would like to thank Richard Phillips of the Grain Growers of Canada for his time and comments. Find out more about the Grain Growers of Canada.