Monsanto begins wheat research in Idaho

The world's largest seed companyis putting down roots in Filer.

(TWIN FALLS) TIMES-NEWSMarch 19, 2014 

Southern Idaho's arid climate and nearly disease-free growing environment makes it ideal for growing foundation seed stock. Already, numerous varieties of onions, carrots, alfalfa and garden beans are grown here for the seed.

Now Monsanto has moved into its Seminis Vegetable Seed Co. building in Filer to conduct research and develop new wheat cultivars.

"We like the climate because we can grow fall, winter and spring wheat," said Kristin Schneider, Monsanto's global lead wheat breeder.

The company paid $1 billion in cash and assumed $400 million of Seminis' debt in 2005 to acquire the vegetable-seed company. But operations at the Seminis facility in Filer remained the same until last summer, when Monsanto announced it would expand the structure for wheat seed research.

The move makes sense, said Steve Hines, University of Idaho extension educator in Jerome.

"When (plant breeders) are producing seed, they need isolation," he said.

In recent years, Monsanto has come under fire for its development of genetically modified seed. Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say GMO food is safe for human consumption. Critics disagree. Activists from around the globe participated in a "March Against Monsanto" last May, calling for the permanent boycott of GMOs.

Monsanto's Filer Research Station is breeding plants using traditional cross- breeding methods, Schneider said.

The ideal flour for making bread has high protein content to make the dough stick together, she said. But a cookie that crumbles requires a flour with a low protein content. In addition, different varieties of wheat are bred for disease resistance, depending on what diseases are common in the area where the crop will be grown, Schneider said.

Plant breeders in Filer are developing seed for wheat that will be grown in Kansas, said wheat breeder Sid Perry, one of 14 Monsanto employees who have moved to work at the research station. Breeders started working late last year by planting winter wheat in greenhouses in Filer and in test plots outside town.

Schneider said the building's expansion will continue through the summer.

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