NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. — The International Association of Operative Millers conference’s keynote presentation was given at this year’s I.M.E.F. breakfast by Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of the Kansas Wheat Association, on the reasons why biotech wheat is needed and the groups working to make it a reality.
Mr. Gilpin said that with the need to double global grain production by 2050 to feed an estimated 9 billion people, companies must develop technologies and techniques to produce more food with less water on fewer acres.
During the last 50 years, grain production, demand and population have increased, while global acreage dedicated to grain has remained relatively static. This speaks highly of what grain producers have been able to produce so far, but Mr. Gilpin said the time has come to take the next steps. Over the same time period, corn bushels per acre have increased to more than 140 from about 60, while wheat only has increased to about 50 from about 20 bus per acre.
Corn and soybean production have benefited from investments in biotechnology. Mr. Gilpin told the audience it is important for the same investments to be made in wheat.
He noted that in 2009, an international cohort of wheat, milling and baking organizations came together to make the case for biotech wheat. Wheat producer organizations in the United States, Canada and Australia have issued a statement on biotech wheat. The groups are working together to synchronize commercialization of biotech traits in the wheat crop. The groups highlight the importance of wheat to the food supply, decline in acres dedicated to wheat in all three countries, slow growth in yield trends of wheat compared to other crops and a lack of public and private investment in wheat research worldwide.
Major international corporations are now taking steps to invest in biotech wheat. Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Limagrain, Dow AgroSciences and Arcadia, to name a few, are industry players in the world of biotech wheat and are making investments.
Mr. Gilpin showed a timeline with an end goal of biotech wheat being available on grocery shelves by 2023. Along the way, industry and academia must work on trait development, international regulatory review and a commercial testing phase, he said.
The Wheat Innovation Alliance, a diverse group of industry leaders dedicated to the advancement of wheat innovation, has formed to help foster a positive environment for wheat innovation. Its goal is to build consensus related to biotech wheat, drive acceptance of biotech wheat, address challenges in an organized way and drive consumer education of biotech wheat in advance of commercialization.