Wheat producers have been warned that, unless the world accepts genetic modification (GM), global production could suffer a similar fate to that of the US where the crop has been progressively replaced by GM maize and soya.
Shannon Schlecht, director of policy with US Wheat Associates, an organisation devoted to the promotion of US wheat exports, described initiatives underway in the US to recover ground lost to soya and maize since 1991.
He was speaking at a grain market outlook conference in London last month, organised by the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA).
US Wheat Associates is promoting the adoption of GM to increase the productivity and yield of wheat growing.
While the land used to grow wheat in the US in 1991 was around 31.2Mha – compared with 30Mha for maize and 23.4Mha for soya – this is predicted to fall to just 22.8Mha for wheat with maize and soya rising to 37.4Mha and 30.4Mha respectively for the 2011/12 season because of the better returns they bring farmers, said Schlect.
Despite the publication of a new report – the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs – which casts doubt on claims made in favour of GM crops, most scientists still argue that GM is an essential tool that ensures sufficient food stocks as the global population soars.
In the UK, the government recently gave permission for Rothamsted Research to undertake scientific research into the potential benefits of GM wheat, modified to produce a pheromone to repel aphids. This will begin next year.
“With wheat being the most important UK crop with an annual value of about £1.2bn, no one should underestimate the economic losses caused by aphids,” said Maurice Maloney, director of Rothamsted Research.
Meanwhile, HGCA director Rebecca Geraghty said: “The HGCA is commissioning research to examine the benefits and disbenefits of GM wheat.”
Schlecht highlighted the dangers of failing to adopt GM for wheat. “20 years ago wheat was king in the US,” he said. “Drought tolerant corn coming maybe next year will push wheat to more marginal land.