Wheat-focused Public-Private Collaboration Paying Off for UI
MOSCOW – he University of Idaho’s pioneering agreement with Limagrain Cereal Seeds, which forged links between the two in marketing and developing wheat varieties, will return $75,000 to the university this year, said Frank Curtis, the company’s executive vice president.
That is at least a five-fold increase in royalties earned during the initial three months featuring UI varieties during company’s first marketing season with UI.
“This year I will be able to send a check for $75,000 and next year is going to be at least double that,” Curtis said. Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, he spoke during the July 6 Parker Farm Field Day sponsored by the company and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Last year, Limagrain began marketing six UI-developed varieties. They include three new Clearfield Plus soft white winter wheat varieties developed through conventional plant breeding methods to include resistance to imidazolinone.
Of those varieties, UI Magic CL+, UI Castle CL+, and UI Palouse CL+, Magic appears best positioned to take off in the marketplace.
“It looks like it will have a really important place,” Curtis said. “We just need some positive harvest results and then we’ll have a success on our hands. It’s still in the test plots but it looks good and so I’m confident.”
Limagrain also markets UI/WSU Huffman, a soft white winter wheat; UI Stone, a soft white spring wheat; and UI Platinum, a hard white spring wheat.
LCS is the U.S. subsidiary of Europe-based Limagrain, one of the world’s largest seed companies. The company and university in 2012 first signed a three-year cooperative agreement. A new three-year pact is in its first year.
Curtis’s remarks followed a talk by CALS Dean Michael Parrella about the importance of recruiting more students and increasing research to generate more revenues.
To make money selling wheat seed, Curtis said, requires getting the right people and technical excellence to create wheat varieties that make money for growers.
Developing intellectual property based on wheat breeding and reaping financial rewards from that research is likewise critical, he added. So is access to germplasm, genetic material that is the foundation of plant breeding efforts.
“I think that is one of the huge strengths of the collaboration between the university and Limagrain Cereal Seeds,” Curtis said.
“We have access to probably more wheat germplasm from around the world than any other plant breeder in the market today, not all, in fact very little, of that is going to be adapted to Northwest conditions,” Curtis said of Limagrain.
The university’s strength is that its wheat breeding program is decades old and its germplasm is well adapted to the region, Curtis said.
The challenge is collecting money from the varieties that result.
“Intellectual property and value capture in the agricultural markets in the U.S., particularly in the wheat market, is not strong,” Curtis said. “So the American seed industry needs to do something not only to attract growers but also to find a way to get money in and to capture the intrinsic value of that intellectual property.”
The future solution will be offering patented traits that flour millers or other end users will pay farmers more money to grow, Curtis said. Working with Colorado State University and the Wheat Research Foundation there, Limagrain will be the world’s first plant breeder to produce patented traits within protected varieties.
The trait’s marketplace value will enable a stewardship system that requires growers to buy new seed each year rather than saving their own. And that in turn will allow the seed company to collect the value of its intellectual property.
Curtis said he expects the first varieties with patented traits to hit the market there in two years. Similar traits could be included in varieties adapted for Idaho and the Northwest within five years.
“As we try to push on to higher levels, the work that we are doing is paying dividends,” Curtis said. “We are very proud to be putting significant sums back into the public sector.”
The UI-Limagrain collaboration offers another significant advantage, Curtis said. UI access to the company’s extensive wheat breeding program allowed the college to shift from hiring a wheat breeder for northern Idaho to adding a wheat molecular geneticist to its faculty.
That hiring of molecular geneticist Daolin Fu serves growers’ needs to exploit market interest in specific traits and expands teaching and research opportunities at the university, he said.