ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, U.S. — Monsanto Co. said it has moved from the “proof of concept” phase into the “early development” phase for its herbicide-tolerant wheat, a move the St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.-based company said brings it closer to its goal of introducing a bioengineered wheat variety. Despite the progress, Robb Fraley, executive vice-president and chief technology officer, said a product launch is still “several years away.”  

“We have field tested and advanced one of the first wheat biotech products based on improvements in weed control,” Fraley said during a Jan. 8 conference call to discuss first-quarter results. “From an overall market perspective, the grain industry and the wheat industry — specifically the wheat trade industry — has remained very interested and supportive of biotech advances.

“A wheat farmer generally is also a corn and soybean farmer, and they understand the benefits of the technology, and the wheat industry has watched the benefits that this technology has brought to both corn and soybeans. And so we continue to make advances.

“We are still several years away from a product launch, but it is nice to see those products in the pipeline.”

The herbicide-tolerant wheat product was designed to give growers another broad spectrum weed control option for weed management with glyphosate tolerant wheat. Monsanto said field trials were conducted last year in Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.

Monsanto’s bioengineered wheat project is one of 29 projects in the company’s overall pipeline of more than 70 projects that made “phase advancements” during the past year. Fraley cited “an exponential step” in the pace and breadth of Monsanto’s research and development engine.

“We have expanded the number of projects and platforms as we capitalized on the only pipeline in the industry that truly targets a total system for yield and productivity,” he said. He added the expansion of the pipeline coupled with some fast-cycle technology has opened the door for Monsanto to advance projects in “waves” as opposed to just a dozen or so.

Monsanto field tested Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon and several other states from 1998 through 2005 but discontinued that program in 2005 when the company determined the market was not yet ready to accept a bioengineered wheat.

Bioengineered wheat also was in the news last summer after an Oregon State University scientist notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture that plant samples had tested positive for a protein that made them resistant to glyphosate. Extensive testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture following the detection of these plants confirmed the wheat as a variety developed by Monsanto. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan temporarily postponed imports of U.S. white wheat after the discovery.