Plant hybridization has been a boon to the corn industry for several decades. Hybridization provides higher and more stable yields for crops. It also allows breeders to more accurately select for agronomic or quality traits that are in demand by farmers and end users.
The wheat industry, from farmers to millers, has long sought a commercially available hybrid wheat. And BASF announced it is one step closer to this breakthrough June 7, with its announcement of the brand name for its future line of hybrid wheat seeds: Ideltis.
According to BASF’s news release, this announcement “demonstrates the company’s commitment to transition wheat for long-term success through innovative hybridization.”
“Ideltis stands for our commitment to hybrid wheat and the transition of the wheat crop system in the long term,” says Vincent Gros, president, BASF Agricultural Solutions. “With Ideltis, we are unlocking the full potential of wheat. Through our global research platform, we anticipate providing growers and the entire value chain hybrid wheat that is tailored to their local needs and consistently delivers better, more stable yield.”
Gustavo Gonzalez, BASF Global Wheat Crop Strategy lead, says the Ideltis hybridization program is focusing on North America and European markets, and specifically hard red winter and hard red spring wheat, for three reasons.
Gonzalez says first is to bring innovation back to wheat breeding and provide growers greater and more stable yields.
“The second point that I always make is the desired protein and end product functionality,” he says. Those are key aspects that millers and other end users need, and both get their start in the field. Gonzalez says hybridization allows breeders the opportunity to advance traits from parent lines more quickly. That could mean public and private breeders alike could integrate disease management or quality traits with future hybrid wheats.
Together, innovation and key quality measurements should provide value and a return on investment to growers, he says.
The hybrid puzzle
Wheat is one of the last row crops to be hybridized, despite the economic potential for farmers and end users. That’s because the wheat genome is very complex; and it was just recently, after the wheat genome was mapped, that researchers were able to find the pieces of the hybridization puzzle.
“Now we’re able to mine even more precisely the interaction of those genes that enables today’s breeders to have in their toolbox platform technologies that enable them to be able to really hone in on exactly what they need to do,” Gonzalez says.
According to BASF, the company uses the CMS process of hybridization for the multiplication of commercial hybrid seeds. This is a natural hybridization process that originates in wild wheat species. With this process, seed multiplication occurs without the use of chemical agents to produce hybrid seeds in large quantities. Rather, it occurs through the pollen sterility of the mother line; then, a targeted crossing with the father line can take place. The father line, in turn, ensures that the hybrid can form pollen and produce grains by self-pollination.
Hybridization is not genetic modification technology, and it’s important for growers and consumers to understand that, Gonzalez says. GM technology uses targeted insertions and modifications of DNA sequences in the genome. Hybridization, however, relies solely on the cross-pollination of preexisting and naturally occurring genetic diversity across wheat plants.
BASF isn’t the only company moving forward into wheat hybridization, and it’s important for farmers to know that this process is a journey, not a sprint. Gonzalez says BASF has been investing for many years in wheat hybridization. And while it’s started with hard red winter and hard red spring wheat classes, that doesn’t mean the company will stop there.
BASF puts its attention to hard red winter wheat and hard red spring wheat, because North America and Europe are major wheat-growing regions, and that’s what those regions mostly grow, Gonzalez says. Those are the two biggest classes for U.S. wheat by far right now, and both are export classes of wheat.
He adds that as companies like BASF go forward with their hybrid wheat breeding efforts, he hopes that end users will reward growers for choosing to grow wheat that matches their quality specifications, and therefore provide economic incentives to growers.
“I think this is a great time in the wheat industry,” he says. “Quite honestly, you know, we need this kind of step change. We need this kind of innovation. Wheat is important for us in the U.S., and we want to make sure it has its place along with the other row crops. We’re looking forward to that.”
BASF contributed to this article.