Giants united by InterGrain

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Syngenta and Monsanto may be locked in a $61.7 billion takeover tussle, but they have common ground in the WA grain industry through Bibra Lake seed-breeding company InterGrain.

The firm has strong ties to the global agriculture heavyweights through its cutting-edge work in developing new wheat and barley varieties.

Monsanto owns 26 per cent of InterGrain and regards it as a key asset in wheat breeding.

It was not as interested in barley, which allowed InterGrain to enter into a collaboration agreement with Syngenta in 2012.

InterGrain is the market leader in barley in Australia and the partnership combines its breeding expertise and germplasm with those of Syngenta.

It has been much tougher to gain a significant share of the wheat market, which is dominated by Australian Grain Technologies and its Mace variety.

InterGrain was created when the State Government opted to privatise the Department of Agriculture and Food WA's wheat breeding program in 2007.

The Government retains a 48.7 per cent share and the grower levy-funded Grains Research and Development Corporation owns 25.3 per cent.

With DAFWA suffering staff and budget cuts, it is pushing the model as one way forward for agricultural research in WA.

However, it has not all been easy for InterGrain, which recorded losses totalling $11 million over 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Monsanto Australia managing director Daniel Kruithoff said research had a price but he was confident it would pay off at InterGrain over the next decade.

"We put a lot of our R&D into plant-breeding genetics around the world and it is a long-term game, " he said.

"Often it can take up to a decade and we were very conscious of that when we invested in InterGrain."

_One of the big challenges for InterGrain is getting new varieties accepted by growers and by end users. _

_In the case of a new barley variety such as La Trobe, that means contracting growers to produce enough volume to send to brewers in booming markets such as China for testing. _

_China is the biggest buyer of Australian malting barley and its major brewers gave beer made from La Trobe the thumbs up. _

_CBH agreed to create a receival segregation for La Trobe in another boost for the variety. _

_The end-point royalty system, which applies in the Australian seed-breeding industry, will allow InterGrain to collect $4 for every tonne grown. _

_It adds up to a good result for InterGrain, even though it was made to seem like small beer this week when Syngenta ruled out further talks with Monsanto because the $US45 billion takeover offer was "woefully short". _

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