SYNGENTA IS poised to challenge leading wheat breeders as it pushes to develop the next number one winter wheat variety.

Investment in plant breeding technology could mean growers see these varieties reaching the market within the next two to three years, the company claims.

Hybrid technologies and marker-assisted breeding techniques could halve the length of the traditional breeding programme for new wheat varieties, said the firm‘s global business manager John Bloomer.

“Markers will allow us to give faster and more precise traits to growers. They allow us to react faster to the market.”

Currently Syngenta is looking at developing UK wheat varieties with increased tolerance to fusarium head blight, septoria tritici and eyespot.

“Everyone will benefit if we can provide a pipeline of products as soon as possible.”

Around £0.25m has been invested in new breeding facilities at the firm‘s Whittlesford site near Cambridge, capable of providing up to 1,200 different wheat crosses to select from every year, he explained.

“With this technology, we can start to generate varieties that are far more adapted to growers needs,” he said.

The first varieties developed using double haploid technology are going into NL1 trials this year, while the first generated by using genetic marker technology will be going into trials by the 2006 harvest, he said.

The same technology is being used to develop varieties in France. But a one year shorter statutory trials period there could see new varieties reaching French growers a year before the UK.