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Nebraska Hopes for Wheat Biotechnology Center

A facility would advance interest in higher yields and more acres.

Got a couple million dollars? That would be a fine start to launching a wheat biotechnology center in Nebraska.

Many wheat growers see biotechnology as key to advancing wheat yields and better yields would enhance interest in growing more wheat in Nebraska. "We're getting behind the other crops," says Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board.

Without yield advances, corn and soybean production will continue to hold wheat production down to 1.5 to 2 million acres a year in the state, worries Schaneman and other wheat leaders in Nebraska. Higher and more consistent yields under the state's varied weather extremes could entice more acres into wheat, or at least keep wheat acreage from eroding.

The need for a wheat biotechnology center, or centers, was a topic of discussion last year at a meeting of the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates, Schaneman says. Nearly every big wheat state with a land-grant university would like to see a center on their home turf. And some of those states have plans that are further along than Nebraska's.

All Nebraska wheat growers have at this point is hopes and dreams to see more researchers dedicated to enhancing end-use traits of wheat. They'd also like to see yields grow more consistent with traits such as drought-tolerance and resistance to yield-robbing wheat diseases.

"We're looking for federal funds, partnerships with other states, partnerships with non-profits and private industry," says Schaneman.

A wheat center wouldn't have to be located under one roof, says Schaneman. It could be spread out among the various offices and laboratories of UNL's East Campus and the George W. Beadle Center. Although if the Nebraska State Fair moves to Grand Island, a Wheat Biotechnology Center at State Fair Park sure would be nice, he says.

All advances in wheat production have come through conventional and laborious plant breeding, which takes 10 to 12 years at a minimum to bring improvements. Biotechnology could speed the process and enlarge the palette of potential improvements that could be made.

Biotechnology hasn't come to wheat yet because of consumer resistance to the concept. While there are pockets of anti-biotech bias in the U.S., most of the prejudice against all biotech wheat comes from foreign wheat customers. That resistance has been a source of frustration to Australian and Canadian wheat growers, too.

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