Monsanto invests in wheat

Monsanto Company has announced it is expanding its strong seeds and traits portfolio to include wheat. The company has acquired the assets of WestBred, LLC, a Montana-based company that specializes in wheat germplasm, the crop’s seed genetic material.

The investment will bolster the future growth of Monsanto’s seeds and traits platform and allow farmers to benefit from the company’s experience in drought-, disease- and pest-tolerance innovations.

“The U.S. wheat industry has come together to call for new technology investment, and we believe we have game-changing technologies — like our drought-tolerance and improved-yield traits — that can meaningfully address major challenges wheat growers face every season,” said Carl Casale, executive vice-president of global strategy and operations for Monsanto. “Through WestBred, we’ll be able to deliver advances in breeding and biotechnology to deliver a step-change in yield while creating a springboard for new partnerships and collaboration opportunities that create additional value for farmers.”

WestBred, owned indirectly by Barkley Seed, Inc., is a premier private wheat germplasm company in the United States, with germplasm assets in all classes of wheat. WestBred’s existing breeding capabilities and commercial operations will become the centerpiece of Monsanto’s wheat platform. In addition, Monsanto will seek public and private partnerships that can help deliver on the promise of technology improvements in wheat for farmers.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the grain industry,” said Robby Barkley, president and CEO, Barkley Seed, Inc. “The combined resources of Monsanto and WestBred will support the development of new technology and traits that can benefit many.”

“As WestBred looked at the wheat industry, we saw a need for technology infusion to be competitive with other crops farmers are growing,” said Ron Ueland, president of WestBred. “We believe that linking up with a company like Monsanto with a proven track record as an innovator is the best route to accelerate the development of new technologies.”

Because the $45 million acquisition represents a long-term investment in research and development and breeding, the company does not expect the acquisition to be accretive to earnings until the middle to latter part of the next decade.

Through its technologies, Monsanto sees an opportunity to bolster the sustainability of wheat by helping wheat farmers improve yields while reducing the use of input resources, such as water, land and energy. The transaction will give WestBred access to Monsanto’s technology platforms to provide wheat farmers benefits through both breeding and biotechnology. Researchers will be able to apply Monsanto’s expertise in conventional and marker-assisted breeding tools to develop better-yielding varieties for U.S. farmers using WestBred’s germplasm as a foundation. These seeds will serve as the foundation for the development of new biotechnology traits, which will initially focus on drought tolerance, nitrogen use and higher yield. Biotechnology will be a longer-term prospect, consistent with the company’s 8-to-10 year development cycle. Monsanto will also explore herbicide-tolerance and disease-resistance opportunities to meet wheat farmers’ needs, but the company’s plans do not include further development of the first-generation Roundup Ready trait in wheat.

“The capabilities we’ve built in both breeding and biotechnology for our core crops are highly transferable to wheat, providing a significant jumpstart to our wheat technology platform,” said Casale. “Given the geographies where wheat is grown, it is a crop particularly challenged by the core issues of water availability and fertilizer efficiency. We believe we have the technology tools today to help wheat farmers meaningfully address these challenges and help create a safe, affordable supply of wheat.”

Monsanto also announced that, as part of its investment in the wheat platform, it will form a Wheat Development Advisory Group to help the company as it works to develop and apply new technology for wheat. Initially, the group will be made up of representatives throughout the wheat value chain, who will provide the company feedback on proposed traits and attributes that are needed to improve the productivity and sustainability of wheat production.

Additional details about the announcement can be found at http://www.monsanto.com/wheat.

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