01 January 2023
A new kind of hybrid wheat now available to American farmers may help reduce fears over genetically engineered crops.
The new hybrid is being introduced as seed companies worldwide seek to increase production because of decreasing grain supplies.
The hybrid wheat was developed by Chinese-owned agriculture company Syngenta. The product was created without genetic engineering.
The first seeds to grow the wheat will be released on 2,000 to 2,800 hectares of American farmland next year, Reuters news agency reports.
Two major German chemical companies – BASF and Bayer – are planning their own launches of hybrid wheat in the future.
How is hybrid wheat made?
Developers, or breeders, create hybrid wheat by taking away the natural ability of plants to pollinate themselves. Instead, female wheat plants in a field are pollinated by male plants of a different line. The goal of the process is to create seeds that can produce bigger crops and better resist harmful environments. The fertilized female plant produces a new kind of hybrid.
Using this hybrid technology permits breeders to choose the best elements from two parent seeds to produce new seeds containing the best characteristics of both.
Producers say when seed companies produce hybrid wheat seeds, some female plants often fail to become fertilized because they depend on unpredictable winds to carry pollen. Pollen is a substance produced by plants when they reproduce.
During some seasons, pollen is released into the air and carried to other plants to be fertilized. Producers say the fertilization of each plant is more certain during wheat's natural process of self-pollination.
How widespread are hybrid crops?
Farmers have grown hybrid corn since the 1930s. The growth improved crop sizes, called yields, by increasing the plant's resistance to things like insects and disease. Vegetables like onions, spinach and tomatoes are also grown from hybrid seeds.
Seed companies said they used their experience launching hybrid corn and barley to develop hybrid wheat. Average corn yields increased 600 percent from 1930 to the mid-1990s. This result was partly helped by hybridization. Wheat saw an increase of two-and-a-half times, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Researchers say hybrid wheat has taken longer to come to market because the development process is more costly and complex. It could be important to increasing wheat yields while avoiding being linked to "GMO" development. GMO stands for genetically modified organism.
Genetically modified wheat has never been grown for industry purposes because of fears that allergens or poisons might be created. Wheat is used to make numerous major foods worldwide.
Dave Hankey owns Hankey Seed Company in Park River, North Dakota. He told Reuters, "Because of the resistance to genetically modifying stuff, hybrids would be considered better and safer."
He added, "That would certainly be the public perception."
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
hybrid – n. a plant or animal that is produced from two different kinds of plant or animal
pollinate – v. to take pollen from one plant to another so that new plant seeds can be produced
fertilize – v. to cause an egg or seed to start to develop into a new young animal or plant by joining it with a male cell
characteristic – n. a typical or noticeable quality of someone or something
certain – adj. used to describe a particular person or thing without directly naming them
modify – v. to change something, usually in a way to improve it or make it more acceptable
allergen – n. a substance that can cause an allergy: a condition when the body reacts badly to something
perception – n. a belief or opinion, often held my many people and based on how things seem