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Spotlight on wheat

Rollie Sears is no stranger to the quest for hybrid wheat, or to the challenges that have thwarted researchers for more than 25 years.

Spotlight on wheat

Rollie Sears is no stranger to the quest for hybrid wheat, or to the challenges that have thwarted researchers for more than 25 years.

For 42 years, he has been breeding wheat. During his 20-year tenure at Kansas State University, he either developed or had a hand in developing a dozen varieties, among them Karl 92, Jagger and 2137.

He left K-State to join AgriPro in 2000, and became part of Syngenta when it purchased AgriPro in 2004.

Sears, who is now manager of Cereals North America Research and Development for Syngenta, says technology makes it possible to move forward with commercializing hybrid wheat. Genetic markers, doubled haploid breeding, better machinery for planting and harvesting plots, and gathering more accurate, precise data have all contributed, he says.

Among the recent investments Syngenta has made in its Junction City cereals research headquarters are a small precision-guided tractor and a new high-tech plot combine. New greenhouses, office buildings and research laboratories, including an expanded doubled haploid complex in 2001, have also been added.

Key Points

• Breeder Rollie Sears leads hybrid wheat R&D for Syngenta.

• Technology has paved the way to achieve success, Sears says.

• Syngenta is investing big in Junction City and around world.

On Oct. 27, Syngenta invited seed dealers, producers and Kansas Farmer to tour the company’s expanded greenhouse and research laboratory operation.

“Make no mistake, Syngenta is dedicated to cereals research,” says Norm Dreger, Syngenta head of Cereals North America. “Globally, we are investing $130 million a year and dedicating 400 employees to cereals.”

Jon Rich, who took over wheat breeding management at Junction City in 2010 after a decade of working there with Sears, says growth has been rapid. Employees now number 18.

“We will continue to grow at this location,” Rich says. “We have plenty of room to expand, and we are already in the process of building more buildings. We manage 25 field research locations out of the Junction City station for the Central Plains, mostly hard red and hard white winter wheat.”

Hybrid wheat is now in the development pipeline. Syngenta harvested its first hybrid lines last summer, Rich says, and is impressed so far.

In the long term, Sears says Syngenta researchers are excited about hybrid wheat and the likelihood of seeing it commercialized within the next decade.

“We started marketing hybrid winter barley in Europe in 2003, and we have learned a lot about the right and wrong of commercializing hybrid cereals,” Sears says. “We have the knowledge, the technology and the ability to make hybrid wheat commercial.”


DOUBLED HAPLOIDS: Veteran wheat breeder Rollie Sears explains how doubled haploid technology works.

This article published in the December, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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