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Jonathan Knutson, Forum Communications Co. , Published December 24 2010

Farmers to get access to GMO wheat

Farmers need access to genetically modified wheat, and sooner or later, they’ll get it, two officials with U.S. Wheat Associates say.

“Most of the major players are active in research and looking at wheat for biotech traits,” says Shannon Schlecht, the organization’s director of policy.

Schlecht, a native of Enderlin, N.D., who received his master’s degree in agricultural economics from North Dakota State University in Fargo, attended the recent Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks.

U.S. Wheat Associates develops export markets by “demonstrating the reliability, choice and value of U.S. wheat,” the organization says. It’s funded by U.S. wheat-producer checkoff dollars and funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Farmers already can plant genetically modified corn and soybeans, and the lack of biotech wheat puts the crop at a disadvantage, says John Oades, a vice president of U.S. Wheat Associates who also attended the Prairie Grains Conference.

“It’s a battle for acreage, and we’re losing,” he says.

But there’s good reason to be optimistic that biotech wheat is coming, Schlecht and Oades say.

For instance, the website of Monsanto, which offers a wide range of seeds to farmers, says biotech products in wheat could be available to farmers in 10 to 15 years.

Oades says the United States is one of more than 25 countries with biotech crop production, with the production split among both developed and developing-world countries.

Johnathan Knutson is a writer for Agweek