KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — After expectations for the release of hybrid wheat in North America around 2020-21, Syngenta said it will focus commercialization on Europe while scaling back late-stage development in North America, although the company said it remained fully committed to hybrid wheat commercialization.

“We have recently decided to scale back our late-stage development work in hybrid wheat in North America, and all our hybrid wheat research in Canada will be put on hold for the time being,” Carlos Iglesias, head of North America cereals, Syngenta Seeds, said in a Nov. 19 message to Syngenta wheat stakeholders. “We will apply the learnings from commercialization in Europe and plan to ramp up our late-stage program in North America following the successful European launch.

“In Europe, we are most advanced with our program and plan to commercialize hybrid wheat in the next few years. In the U.S., we are continuing with our work in early-stage hybrid wheat.

“In North America, where Syngenta has a market-leading position in varietal wheat, we will continue to invest in R&D for a competitive varietal portfolio, in addition to our work in early-stage hybrid wheat.

“Syngenta remains fully committed to hybrid wheat, which we believe will deliver benefits to growers in increased yield — consistently year-on-year — as with hybrid barley.”

The statement to Syngenta stakeholders was in response to a recent trade news report that “incorrectly stated that Syngenta will no longer pursue commercialization of hybrid wheat in North America.”

“That is not correct,” Iglesias said.

Iglesias said there was no timeline for when hybrid wheat would be available, but that Syngenta was not pulling out of research and development after investing several million dollars, according to a report in Successful Farming. Most companies have focused on hybrid corn and soybeans, which have higher short-term returns relative to the potential for wheat hybrids. Iglesias indicated that the payback to farmers for benefits of hybrid wheat currently may not be enough for them to justify paying more for the hybrid wheat seed.

“It’s not that they are giving up on hybrid wheat,” said David G. Green, executive director of the Wheat Quality Council, adding that development of hybrid wheat was ongoing, including work at Texas A&M University and the University of Nebraska, as well as at other institutions and private companies.

“While wheat in N.A. has strategic significance for Syngenta, wheat is not a primary crop within our company at the moment,” said Iglesias in a joint comment with Paul Morano, head of commercial at Syngenta. “The priority of investment across the seed industry, and in particular at Syngenta, is for other crops that could generate more revenue and result in greater profits than wheat, at the moment.

“Syngenta is committed to continue generating, promoting and marketing a stream of elite and competitive varieties for all major production zones to support our leading position in varietal wheat.”

They said Syngenta has about a 34% market share in varietal wheat over the entire United States, with many leading varieties, such as numbers 1, 2 and 3 planted in North Dakota, No. 1 in the Pacific Northwest, and many others leading in various states.

“Concomitantly, we are redirecting resources to improving the genetic base of hybrid wheat, to ensure we could select and promote hybrids that show excelling heterotic performance along with competitive production cost and end-product quality,” Iglesias and Morano said. “This will certainly result in a delay in hybrid wheat launch dates, but it will ensure that the products we bring to the market will provide ample advantages for farmers to adopt them and benefit from their production.”

In a comment to Milling & Baking News, a sister publication of World Grain, Iglesias said, “The bottom line is that we are right-sizing our investment in wheat as part of Syngenta’s strategy. As a consequence, we are focusing resources to support variety and early-stage hybrid wheat development along with sustaining the strength of our commercial arm.”

In October 2017 researchers at the University of Adelaide (Australia) in conjunction with DuPont Pioneer, published in Nature Communications the discovery of Ms1, a naturally occurring wheat gene that when turned “off” eliminates self-pollination but allows cross-pollination that will permit breeding of high-yield wheat varieties. The challenge in producing hybrid wheat is the breeding and commercial multiplication of the hybrid parent, the report said, adding that wheat is a self-pollinator but production of hybrid seed requires large-scale cross-pollination of two pure lines. Discovery of the Ms1 gene was necessary for cross-pollination in wheat that can be used in large-scale, low-cost production of parent breeding lines needed for hybrid wheat production.