Wheat is one of the world's primary crops and, in the American landscape, an almost mythical one. But over the past decades, American farmers have turned away from their amber waves of grain.
That's a trend the wheat industry and seed companies - including Creve Coeur-based Monsanto - are trying to reverse.
Over the past two years, the agricultural biotechnology giant has renewed its interest in wheat, committing more resources to creating new traits and seed varieties that it hopes could eventually bring more farmers back into the wheat fold.
In 2009, the company paid $45 million to buy WestBred, a Montana-based wheat seed company. In the past six months, the company has built a 'seed chipper" for wheat - a proprietary and prohibitively expensive machine that speeds the process of identifying beneficial crop traits.
"We're seriously trying to be successful in wheat," said Sean Gardner, head of the company's wheat efforts. "We think we can make a difference in what is the world's largest crop."
Monsanto had been working to commercialize a genetically modified wheat, but in 2004, facing industry rejection, the company pulled back. "A couple of things led us to stop," Gardner said. "The industry probably wasn't ready for it."