Idaho wheat grower foresees GMO breeding

Meanwhile, the state commission has pledged funds for research on conventional breeding.


Idaho Harvest

Stalks of wheat await harvest at sunset in August 2010 near Moscow.


No genetically modified wheat breeding experimentation is underway at the University of Idaho, but the newest member of the Idaho Wheat Commission said it's only a matter of time.

Joseph R. Anderson, 56, of Genesee, was appointed to the commission by Gov. Butch Otter to replace Joe Anderson in a regional position. The Andersons are not related.

Joseph R. Anderson, who farms about 4,400 acres in Latah and Nez Perce counties, recently wrapped up a five-year term on the Idaho Grain Producers Association executive board. He raises mostly wheat, barley, pulses (grain legumes such as beans) and oilseed crops.

Wheat growers are intent on pursuing research that can help them remain competitive with the rest of the wheat-producing world, and Anderson said that's the reason the wheat commission recently pledged $640,000 over a three-year period to hire a molecular geneticist wheat breeder at the university.

"It takes so long from the time there's a discovery made until the grower has it in his hands to utilize, and research is not something that you can stop and start like a truck engine," he said. "We've had kind of a worldwide shortage in wheat the last two years ... so we feel we need to keep the research issue going."

Controversial though it is, that likely means genetically modified wheat is something of the future, he said.

"We believe it's coming someday. We believe it's necessary to feed the planet, but it needs to come at a measured pace with consumer acceptance," he said.

For the time being, there have been advances in identifying and fast-tracking conventional wheat breeding, and that's the main purpose of the new faculty position at U of I.

"What the new genetic molecular breeder will do (will be to) shorten the timeline between discovery (of new varieties) and utilization with conventional non-GMO breeding methods," Anderson said.

Growers would be spared a lot of grief if even three to five years could be shaved off the time between discovery of a new variety and its on-the-ground production, he said.

"It would be important if we had to breed against disease," Anderson said. "We would be way more responsive in getting a resistant variety out."

Anderson said his move from the grain producers association to the wheat commission has to do with moving from lobbying and advocacy to research, education and market development.

"I want to ensure that policies and funding are in place for Idaho wheat growers to have access to all the advances in technologies they need to reduce their input costs to increasing yields to help keep them competitive," Anderson said.

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