Virginia Tech forms new partnership to develop better wheat varieties

Wheat variety plots at the Eastern Virginia AREC

Wheat variety breeder seed purification plots at the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 16, 2010 – Virginia Tech and Monsanto recently announced a mutually beneficial public-private collaborative agreement that will allow both parties to improve their wheat breeding programs and generate improved wheat varieties for growers in Virginia.

“This partnership leverages Virginia Tech’s long-term investment in wheat breeding and increases our resources to continue this work,” said Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “This formal collaboration will benefit our wheat breeding program and the university by providing us access to modern technology and the unique traits that Monsanto will develop.” Grant also said both parties are free to form additional collaborative arrangements with other public or private entities.

Carl Griffey, wheat breeder and professor of crop and soil environmental sciences at Virginia Tech, said that working with companies like Monsanto will give Virginia Tech the potential to more efficiently develop better varieties for growers. “Virginia Tech will have immediate access to the latest technologies for trait and line selection using marker-assisted breeding and, ultimately, timely access to unique value-added traits, both of which will make wheat production more competitive and profitable,” he said.

According to Griffey, Virginia Tech will continue to work with other public wheat breeding programs, as it has in the past. “It is really important that we continue the collaborative research efforts and free exchange of wheat germplasm between wheat breeding programs at other land-grant universities,” said Griffey.

Stakeholders in the Virginia wheat industry had the chance to meet with representatives from Virginia Tech and Monsanto to understand the collaboration in detail before it was signed. Following the recent meeting, Dee Dee Darden, Virginia Grain Producers Association first vice president and producer said, “Virginia Tech has a long history of working with and addressing the needs of Virginia’s producers. This agreement is about traits and qualities that combat yield-plaguing issues like disease and drought. The partnership between Griffey’s wheat breeding program and Monsanto will help Virginia producers stay competitive, improving yield potential and the quality characteristics of wheat. These advances are vital to our success in the economy and the current regulatory environment. The Virginia Grain Producers Association is excited about the expansion and the advances in research this investment will provide to the wheat breeding program, Virginia growers, and the industry as a whole.”

Virginia Tech will continue efforts to develop and release wheat varieties with improved performance in the way it does today. “This agreement between Virginia Tech and Monsanto assures Virginia Tech’s right to continue releasing wheat varieties through the same channels as the past,” said David Whitt of the Virginia Crop Improvement Association. These include public, nonexclusive, and exclusive variety releases that are marketed by local, state, and regional seed companies.

Sean Gardner, Monsanto’s global commercial wheat lead, added, “The collaboration is another important partnership for the wheat industry, bringing together the expertise and technologies of both of Monsanto and Virginia Tech to develop better wheat varieties for growers that might not be created otherwise.”

“Carl and his team bring excellent field experience that when brought together with Monsanto’s high-throughput, marker-assisted selection tools can really open up an exciting range of possibilities for breeding great new wheat varieties for growers in the eastern United States,” Gardner said.

Nationally ranked among the top research institutions of its kind, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences focuses on the science and business of living systems through learning, discovery, and engagement. The college’s comprehensive curriculum gives more than 3,100 students in a dozen academic departments a balanced education that ranges from food and fiber production to economics to human health. Students learn from the world’s leading agricultural scientists, who bring the latest science and technology into the classroom.