DuPont Co., the world’s second-largest seed company, said wheat yields would increase 15 percent to 20 percent if it can make a hybrid version of the world’s most planted grain.
Those yield gains would occur with the first commercial product, expected in a decade or so, John Soper, a vice president of research at Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont, said today in a telephone interview. The company is using conventional and biotechnology approaches to developing hybrid wheat, Soper said.
DuPont, the largest U.S. chemical maker by market value, joins Basel-based Syngenta AG in pursuing ways to create wheat hybrids. About 500 million acres of wheat are planted globally each year, and “a hybrid wheat system would have access to a lot of it,” Soper said.
Wheat plants are normally self-pollinating, Soper said. So the challenge is creating plants that have no pollen that can then be fertilized with pollen from another plant to create a hybrid of the two, he said.
Hybrid wheat technology has been added as the first phase of a five-step research and development pipeline at DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit, Jim Borel, a DuPont executive vice president, said today in a webcast from a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. conference in New York.
Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co., which have previously announced efforts to boost wheat yields through genetic modification, are not pursuing the creation of wheat hybrids.
“Wheat is planted on more acres globally than any other crop but productivity improvements have lagged the other major crops,” Borel said in the presentation.
Protecting intellectual property in wheat would be easier with hybrids than the inbred varieties currently available, as hybrid seed saved from a prior harvest produce less grain, Soper said.
Agriculture accounted for 30 percent of DuPont’s 2012 sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Monsanto is the largest seed company.
Wheat was planted on 215.8 million hectares (533.3 million acres) globally last year, surpassing rice, corn and soybeans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.