Double haploid technology and use of genetic markers have been key to the re-emergence of Syngenta Seeds as a wheat breeder, says John Bloomer, the firm’s global head of cereals.

Four new varieties – including two Group 2 milling wheats – could mark the return of Syngenta Seeds as a wheat seeds market player.

The firm hasn’t had a single wheat variety on the HGCA Recommended List since Reaper in 2000, but has dominated the spring malting barley market with the likes of Optic and Cocktail.

Now, with the inclusion of four candidate varieties – Duxford, Limerick, Monty and Hereford – in RL trials for this season, Syngenta is confident its investment in high-tech breeding techniques is finally going to pay off (see panel).

Duxford is a potential Group 2 milling wheat with a treated yield after two years of National List trials of 109% of the controls – 4% ahead of Einstein, says Robert Hiles, Syngenta’s head of UK cereals. “The RL wheat committee needed little persuasion to include it in RL trials.”

Milling quality

SYNGENTA WHEATS
  • Four new RL candidates
  • Duxford / Limerick – Group 2
  • Hereford / Monty – Group 4
  • Result of advanced breeding programme

A Solstice x Scorpion 25 cross, it has moderate Group 2 milling quality – better than Einstein, but not up to Solstice level. “It was carefully selected for the whiteness of its flour, which has been confirmed in milling tests.”

A fast-developing variety, it is not suitable for early drilling, says Mr Hiles. “Drill it from late-September onwards.” Disease resistance is decent – nothing less than a five rating – but not outstanding. Standing power is good, despite it being relatively tall.

Fellow Solstice x Scorpion 25 cross Limerick is a higher-quality Group 2 miller. Its yield at 105% of controls is equal to Einstein and it also has been given a provisional “ukp” branding by British Cereals Exports. Initial trials suggest it is not suited to northern conditions – its yield is only 96% of the controls in that region, compared with 106% in the east and west.

Disease resistance is better than Duxford – minimum ratings of sixes for all diseases. Also, unlike Duxford, it should be suitable for early drilling from 1 September, says Mr Hiles.

The candidate soft feed variety, Monty, could eventually take the largest market share of any of the four, adds Mr Hiles. He is targeting an 8% market share for 2008 plantings, compared with 3-4% for Duxford, and 1-2% for Limerick and the other feed, Hereford.

High yield

That target is based on its extremely high yield in both first- and second-wheat situations and potential use in the Cerestar Manchester starch plant.

Its three rating for eyespot resistance wouldn’t suggest high second-wheat yields should be possible, but Mr Hiles believes the provisional three rating will be upgraded after more trials are assessed this year. Stiff-strawed, the variety should require little growth regulation. It is also resistant to orange wheat blossom midge.

The final contender, Hereford, has the highest yields in NL trials at 110% of controls. But its serious brown rust weakness – rated a two – makes it unlikely to meet RL standards for minimum disease resistance, Mr Hiles admits. “Its yield potential more than outweighs the additional cost of controlling brown rust, which is relatively cheap and easy.”

BREEDING ADVANCES

Investment in marker technology and double haploid techniques are behind Syngenta Seeds’ potential return to wheat breeding success.

Marker-assisted breeding allows breeders to identify and select for desirable traits almost as soon as the cross is made, says John Bloomer, the firm’s global head of cereals.

Allied to that is the use of double haploids, which allows a variety’s genetics to be stabilised faster. “It allows the breeder to select winners earlier,” he adds.

Both techniques speed up identification of potential new varieties – along with Syngenta’s use of both northern and southern hemispheres’ growing seasons. “It is all about speed,” says Mr Bloomer. “We want to give UK cereal growers better varieties – faster.”