Seed World

Giant Views

Jay Bradshaw
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Sparking the Next Green Revolution

Nobel laureate and legendary agronomist Norman Borlaug’s development of semi-dwarf, disease-resistant, high-yielding wheat varieties led to an increase in global food production known as the Green Revolution. Through his pioneering work in wheat genetics research, Borlaug is often credited with saving more than a billion people worldwide from starvation.

Today, world population is estimated to be growing by two people per second. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global food output will have to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 to meet the expected demand. Feeding billions more in the years ahead will require nothing less than a second Green Revolution—and wheat innovation will again play a prominent role.

A Global Opportunity
Wheat is a crop under economic pressure. Low-yield growth and low intensity acres, quality issues and low grower profitability are barriers to success. Wheat is being displaced by more profitable crops and grown on increasingly marginal acres. Wheat is also characterized by a high proportion of farm-saved seed and by low private sector investment in breeding.

Despite these challenges, wheat remains the single largest crop in the world, with approximately 500 million acres under cultivation. Not only is this cereal the most important food crop globally, it is also a significant source of feed and fuel. And, when grown intensively, it is a high-yielding crop. The global demand for wheat is expected to double over the next 40 years. What makes this crop truly exciting, though, is its significant potential for technology transformation.

Relative to other crops, wheat technology is in its infancy. This creates an opportunity to transform wheat production worldwide by developing innovative technology platforms and reaching for new standards in yield, quality and sustainability.

Perhaps most critically, feeding an expanding global population with limited arable land and resources—water in particular—means growing more from less. The only sustainable approach to meeting the future demand for wheat is through innovation, specifically through research and development in the areas of native and genetically modified traits, hybrid wheat and the combination of seeds, seed care and crop protection to accelerate plant yield performance.

This is all within reach. Marker-assisted breeding allows faster trait selection and introgression, helps move traits around the world more quickly and facilitates novel combinations. Double haploid technology allows breeders to select winners earlier. Hybrids and trait technology, both native and genetically modified, hold great promise for yield consistency, disease resistance and water and nitrogen use efficiency. New tools in the hands of breeders will mean significant improvements in yield and quality.

Thinking Like a Grower
This year, Syngenta will invest $1 billion in research. We will work to broaden the array of crop protection and seed care products available for grain growers, continue to invest heavily in research and technology, expand our hybrid wheat project and provide growers with integrated seed and crop protection solutions.

Taking this “cereal-centric” view will allow us to target solutions development to emerging agronomic needs. Our goal is to “think like a grower,” taking into account each of the various factors that will ultimately help wheat growers be more successful.

This is an incredible moment in the history of food production. We have never had so much technology and knowledge to work with, and we have never had so much on the line. We can either put our heads in the sand and hope that other people will fix the challenges we’re facing—or we can take this opportunity to help shape our own future and spark the next Green Revolution.

Jay Bradshaw, President, Syngenta Canada