Grain News

Arcadia Biosciences Develops Nitrogen Use Efficiency Trait in Wheat

Date Posted: November 10, 2008

DAVIS, CA Vic Knauf believes there is great potential in solving some of the agronomic problems that plague wheat producers. Knauf is the chief scientific officer at Arcadia Biosciences, Davis, California.

The company develops plants that improve the environment and are beneficial to human health. Arcadia is developing Nitrogen Use Efficiency technology in wheat.

“It varies by crop and location, but generally, 50% of the nitrogen farmers apply to the ground, the plant will never use,” Knauf told wheat producers at this week’s fall board meeting of the U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers.

So Knauf’s company has fine-tuned technology developed by the University of Alberta, Canada, to develop and test NUE in cereal crops.

Researchers have eight seasons of data in North Dakota, Minnesota and California, indicating farmers can achieve the same yield of canola with the NUE trait using one-third the nitrogen that conventional canola requires.

Early research in rice shows that, with NUE technology, a half-rate of nitrogen still results in higher tiller count and increased panicle number. Arcadia has developed and licensed NUE technology to a number of companies in several crops, including Monsanto for canola and Pioneer for corn.

For wheat, the challenge of adopting biotech is greater.

Not only is the grain readily consumed by humans – a sticky wicket when it comes to biotech adoption – but the bulk of the nation’s wheat research occurs at land-grant universities and USDA Agricultural Research Service facilities.

Therefore, biotech research companies like Arcadia must develop licensing agreements with each institution in order to recoup their research investment.

Wheat leaders are working to develop a less cumbersome means of creating licensing agreements. That’s a good thing, as biotechnology investment in wheat can bring about a host of traits that make wheat a much more sustainable crop.

These include traits such as drought tolerance, which allows more bushels to be grown with less water; fusarium tolerance, which prevents fungus development and of course, Arcadia’s nitrogen use efficiency.

The reluctance to invest in biotechnology is a battle that NAWG and U.S. Wheat have waged for years. Hope, however, is on the horizon.

“The key is to get international acceptance,” says Daren Coppock, chief executive officer of NAWG. Therefore, NAWG is working with wheat grower organizations in Australia and Canada to develop a pro-biotechnology statement signed by all three countries.

Such a document, presented to key export countries, would illustrate that the three nations are serious about committing to adopting biotechnology in wheat in a safe, scientific approach.

“We want to be unified so that one country cannot leverage itself against the others,” Coppock says. Meanwhile, the NAWG is preparing a survey that gauges wheat farmers’ collective acceptance of biotechnology.

Surveys are being prepared now for early 2009 distribution to the nation’s wheat farmers, in which farmers can indicate whether they embrace biotech advancements in wheat.

The goal is to have the survey results tabulated by the end of February, 2009.

For more information, call 866-759-4328.

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