It’s true that disaster is pronounced for the Kansas wheat crop every few months, and the crop seems to resurrect anyway.
But with Marion County wheat farmers poised to harvest a good to excellent wheat crop the end of this month, they really didn’t need to hear any hints that wheat prices could be down, thanks to the discovery of genetically altered wheat developed by Monsanto in an Oregon spring wheat field.
It’s been far better to be able to count this as an especially blessed area with rainfall adequate for the crop when the wheat crop is shrunken by lack of moisture in areas further west.
Monsanto originally genetically altered the wheat to resist the contact herbicide Roundup in tests. The company never released the new wheat for planting by farmers, in part because of the resistance from wheat importing nations.
The problem developed earlier this spring when an Oregon farmer used Roundup on volunteer wheat to kill it to prepare for new cultivation only to discover the herbicide didn’t affect the plants.
Paul Penner, a Hillsboro wheat farmer, said there still may be special dispensation for the hard red winter wheat generally grown here when compared to the export marketing soft spring wheat areas centered on the Oregon discovery.
Wheat buyers for the 50 percent of wheat exported from here to countries such as Japan and South Korea are well aware of the difference in spring wheat and fall wheat after years of experience in the markets, said Penner, who serves as vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a past president of the organization.
Even though the various types of wheat are used for different milling processes, Penner said there is hope the importing nations will discern to still buy Kansas wheat.
Wheat marketing experts from NAWG are working long hours answering questions and advising the importing nations, Penner said.
“This was a very isolated incident,” Penner added, “on only 125 acres in an Oregon field. APHIS (the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) is working with Monsanto to see how it could happen.”
Investigators from Monsanto also have noted that the discovery is very small and isolated.
“It is a mystery how it got there,” Penner said.
Repeated tests by Monsanto over far-flung geographic areas have failed to detect any more Roundup-resistant wheat.
Agronomist Jim Shroyer from Kansas State University noted that the “Roundup Ready” wheat could have grown for years in the field without discovery.
With evidence gathered so far, Shroyer is guessing the altered wheat could have been planted in the Eastern Oregon field about eight years ago.
Some Kansas farmers aren’t accepting the news very well.
Ernest Barnes, who grows wheat on 1,000 acres in Morton County, filed suit against Monsanto for allegedly releasing the genetically modified wheat thereby endangering about $9 billion in average annual wheat exports.
Monsanto began genetic testing in June on the two main wheat varieties planted on farms throughout Oregon and Washington. The company followed that by testing the seed for 50 varieties used in 2011, and then for 56 varieties since then with still no variety contamination.
Leaders of the Oregon Wheat Growers say they are still reeling under the basic question of “how could this have happened?”