BASF talks hybrid wheat and canola revolutions

Big changes are ahead for wheat technology; buy your canola in new bag sizes

BASF’s 2020 canola will come in different-sized bags, labelled A, B, C and D. All bags will contain at least 4.25 million seeds. “A” bags will hold the smallest seeds, and weigh 42.2 pounds. The largest seeds will be sold in “D”-labelled bags, and weigh 56.7 pounds. Recommended seeding rates vary from 4.2 pounds/acre of “A” seeds to 5.7 pounds/acre of “D” seeds.

Jonathan Sweat, BASF’s vice-president, business management agricultural solutions, made a trip to the Canadian Prairies this summer to visit farms and attend Ag in Motion, where he took time to talk to Grainews.

After more than 20 years at BASF, Sweat is still enthusiastic about the company’s investment in research. “About 40 per cent of our total R&D budget as a company goes into agriculture,” Sweat says. “We have very strong programs around sustainability and technology that will build a sustainable future.” This investment includes a commitment to Western Canada and Canadian agriculture.

While we see new developments in canola and soybean seed every year, the big technological change for Prairie farmers is still just over the horizon. “We have a very active hybrid wheat development program,” Sweat says.

BASF is hoping to launch hybrid wheat varieties in the next five years. A lot of the research is taking place at the company’s research station at Pike Lake, Saskatchewan, which includes 480 acres of field nurseries.

Sweat says the biggest benefit farmers will see from hybrid wheat varieties will be yield stability. “Our objective is to develop higher-performing wheat, wheats that will yield higher, but will perform more consistently in a wider range of conditions.” Varieties that would perform well in either dry or wet years would be welcome in areas that have seen variable weather over the past decade. Sweat believes growers are hungry for some technical advances in this area.

To date, he says, BASF has invested more than $500 million in hybrid wheat, and will invest more to get it into the marketplace. “It’s a big investment into the biggest crop in Canada.”

Changes in the canola market

BASF executive Garth Hodges sees the growth of the canola industry as a process of revolution and evolution. Hodges, BASF’s global head of canola and oilseed rape seeds, was formerly Bayer’s global head of oilseeds; he’s been focused on canola for many years.

“The first revolution,” Hodges says, “was making hybrids.” There’s no doubt that the development of canola hybrids changed the industry. “The next revolution for us was herbicide tolerance. That really allowed growers to get the maximum out of it.” After that, Hodges says, “the next revolution was pod-shatter tolerance.” Hodges was behind the wheel as pod shatter canola genetics were introduced.

Now, Hodges says, “we’re facing another revolution.” Farmers may see this revolution as useful, but not quite as attention-grabbing as the previous changes: selling seed by seed size vs. weight. For the 2020 growing season, each bag of BASF canola seed will contain enough seed for 10 acres. Bag weights will range from 42.2 pounds to 56.7 pounds, rather than the standard 50-pound weight farmers have been used to. Hodges says farmers will be able to buy seed “knowing they’ll get the right amount of seed in the bag.”

“In between the revolutions, we’ve had an evolution,” Hodges says. “Every year, we’re able to bring out new products that are slightly better than the year before.”

The biggest challenge Hodges sees on the horizon is the spread of clubroot. He wants farmers to help BASF and other companies to fend off this disease, through practices like volunteer management, sanitation, and proper crop rotation. “Farmers have to help us, and they have to help themselves,” Hodges says. “We can only play a small part.”

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