News Column

Wheat commission member foresees GMO breeding

July 6, 2014

By Kathy Hedberg, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

July 06--Although there is no genetically modified wheat breeding experimentation going on at the University of Idaho, the newest member of the Idaho Wheat Commission said it's only a matter of time.

Joseph R. Anderson, 56, of Genesee was appointed to the commission by Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter to replace Joe Anderson of Potlatch to represent District 1. Though they share the same name, the two men are not related.

Joseph R. Anderson, who farms about 4,400 acres in Latah and Nez Perce counties, recently wrapped up a five-year term on the Idaho Grain Producers Association executive board. He raises mostly wheat, barley, pulses and oilseed crops.

Wheat growers are intent on pursuing research that can help them remain competitive with the rest of the wheat-producing world, and Anderson said that's the reason the wheat commission recently pledged $640,000 over a three-year period to hire a molecular geneticist wheat breeder at the university.

"It takes so long from the time there's a discovery made until the grower has it in his hands to utilize, and research is not something that you can stop and start like a truck engine," Anderson said.

"We've had kind of a worldwide shortage in wheat the last two years -- we're consuming more than we're producing -- so we feel we need to keep the research issue going."

Controversial though it is, that likely means genetically modified wheat is something of the future, he said.

"We believe it's coming someday. We believe it's necessary to feed the planet, but it needs to come at a measured pace with consumer acceptance."

For the time being, however, there have been advances in identifying and fast-tracking conventional wheat breeding and that's the main purpose of the new faculty position at UI.

"What the new genetic molecular breeder will do (will be to) shorten the timeline between discovery (of new varieties) and utilization with conventional non-GMO breeding methods," Anderson said.

If even three to five years could be shaved off the time between discovery of a new variety and its on-the-ground production that could save growers a lot of grief.

"It would be important if we had to breed against disease," Anderson said. "We would be way more responsive in getting a resistant variety out."

Anderson said the move from the grain producers association, which is dues-sponsored, to the wheat commission that is funded by a 3.5 cent-per-bushel assessment when wheat is sold has to do with moving from political lobbying and advocacy to research, education and market development.

"I want to ensure that policies and funding are in place for Idaho wheat growers to have access to all the advances in technologies they need to reduce their input costs to increasing yields to help keep them competitive," Anderson said.

Hedberg may be contacted at (208) 983-2326.


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Source: Lewiston Morning Tribune (ID)

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