European wheat growers held back by EU

The failure of the EU to resolve the GM approvals process is holding back European wheat growers, according to chief executive officer of Limagrain, Daniel Cheron.

Progress in wheat yields on farm has been slow at 1% a year, he told Farmers Weekly while visiting Cereals. “As in France, constraints on fertiliser and agrochemical use have held back progress in the last five years.”

In France, there is a stated political aim of halving pesticide use by 2018. But there is also the need to meet the growing world demand for food.

“This huge challenge is not impossible if we invest in breeding and research.”

He believes GM technology is one part of the solution. “We are trying to explain to politicians of the need to invest in biotechnology and develop GM.”

GM is the way to increase yields as illustrated by the increasing gap in crop yields in the US. For example, maize which is 95% GMO is increasing at 2% a year, while wheat yields are increasing at half this rate.”

Mr Cheron believes it is unlikely that growers will be growing GM wheat crops commercially in the next 10 years. However, Limagrain is investing in GM as it takes years to develop the varieties.

Breeders were focusing on two traits – nitrogen use efficiency and drought tolerance. “Currently we have field trials in US and expect to hit the market with commercial lower nitrogen varieties in 2020.”

In the long term, he believes a 20-30% reduction in nitrogen use is achievable for the same yield. However, the greatest improvements will be seen in countries that are lower yielding than the UK and France, such as eastern Europe.

Biotechnology could also be used for more qualititive traits in wheat, such as modifying the quality of starch.

Mr Cheron also sees a greater segmentation of the sector with variety breeding programmes specifically aimed at meeting the needs of the biofuel from wheat sector.

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