Wright, however, is quick to remind us that while enhanced grain quality and trait packages that offer end-user benefits are certainly important to the feed and grain industry, these products must still meet the needs of the producer who plants, nurtures, harvests and takes these products to market.
"For producers, the incentive to work with these new value-added trait packages remains tied to two factors," he emphasizes. "These products must have a market and they must yield well."
That's no small consideration either; since the seed used to produce these stacked-trait grains come with tech fees attached, up-front costs are higher than conventional hybrids or varieties. Wright suggests producers are working more closely with consultants, agronomists, seed company reps and elevator managers to help them make the decisions on what to plant and how, and with whom, to market these specialty grains.
"Growers are looking to bring a higher quality product — be it commodity grade or specialty grains — to the marketplace. Furthermore, faced with the task to nearly double that supply in the next 25 years, technology-driven trait packages are the primary tool available to deliver both yield and end-user quality," Wright says.
Blueprint To Bin
Underscoring the need to develop grain products to meet the tastes of a global feed and food market is the need to deliver the next generation of grain products through the development, regulatory and commercialization processes.
"From concept to commercialization, the process can take anywhere from 10 to 12 years," says Andrew Duff, former Corn Trait marketing manager, Monsanto. "There are many checkpoints along that timeline which require review with many different stakeholders along the way including grower, end user, processor, channeling and regulatory groups.
"If early in that timeline the prospects look dim for a successful product launch, we won't go to market," Duff says. "To recoup the vast investment it takes to bring a product to commercialization, we must be pretty confident our idea is sound, has value, is attainable and is desired in the marketplace."
Duff helped lead the team that is bringing Genuity VT Triple PRO to the market. A full launch is slated for the 2010 growing season with a limited release available this spring for Southern corn-growing regions that anticipated higher than normal corn earworm and fall armyworm pressures.
Genuity VT Triple PRO hybrids employ multiple Bt proteins for broader spectrum control of these target pests, and Duff feels this trait package is the prototype for a value-added product that delivers both enhanced grain quality and end-user benefits.
"These pests can cause tremendous crop damage which obviously impacts the producer's yield, and the damaged plant tissue serves as an entry point for disease and a host location for pests," Duff explains. "Now you have a situation where insects and damaged kernels compromise grain quality, necessitating additional handling and cleaning at the mill.
"As damage is more pronounced, the chance for increased aflatoxin development rises dramatically and now you have a real problem," Duff adds. "So you see, the more value we can build into a trait package — including anticipating marketplace needs — the more likely it is to pass all the checkpoints along the timeline and, ultimately, be commercialized."
Outlook for 2009
When looking at how the 2009 growing season is shaping up from a grain quality perspective, from the outset it appears that some areas could be seeing a repeat performance of 2008. Cool, wet weather has caused delays in areas of the Corn Belt, with less than 25% of the corn crop in Illinois and Indiana reported as planted by mid-May — compared to a more normal acres planted rate of 85% for the region.
Conversely, the western Corn Belt (Dakotas, Nebraska, western Iowa and Minnesota) is lacking the moisture needed to nurture young stands. If patterns persist, expect a late, wet crop at harvesttime.
Dr. Wright thinks soybean producers could be in for some challenging conditions, thanks to changing weather patterns and their potential to drive insect pressures higher.