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K-State develops quality wheat varieties for Kansas

By Angie Johnson


Kansas State University researchers are responsible for developing more than 70 percent of the wheat varieties grown by Kansas farmers, while also providing the highest quality, according to Bikram Gill, distinguished professor of plant pathology at K-State.

The university has played a vital role in Kansas' wheat production for years.

"The high percentage of K-State varieties in the 2003 crop continues a long tradition of improving wheat for Kansas growers," according to emeritus agronomy professor Gary Paulsen. "Thirty-six varieties have been released since 1917, each an improvement in some respect over its predecessors."

Gill said that Kansas wheat producers want K-State to produce wheat varieties for Kansas farmers because they are productive, yield high-quality grain, and resist the pests and adverse weather that often damage wheat in the state. Gill said farmers want to grow varieties that are profitable, and they discover the necessary attributes in K-State varieties.Wheat Breeding

"Farmers are very pleased with K-State varieties because they are high quality and high yielding," he said. "Wheat is extremely important to Kansas' economy and K-State has excelled in this long-standing tradition."

However, it's not every day that a new, successful wheat variety is released. Gill said it takes about 12 years to develop a new variety because it must be high yielding, excellent quality for bread making and have good resistance to disease and insects, along with many other considerations.

There are several professors, scientists and other individuals involved in the wheat developing process including breeders, plant pathologists, agronomists, grain scientists, entomologists and members of the United States Department of Agriculture grain marketing lab and the Plant Science Research Unit.

"This is a result of a long-term investment and research. It's ongoing," Gill said. "There are always some new problems to solve, such as making the difficult transition from hard red wheat to white wheat; so the whole thing is sort of dynamic."

Each new variety begins with a cross-breading process, inbreeding, followed by several methods of testing, evaluation and yield trials. Gill said hundreds and thousands of wheat lines are tested and only a few make the grade.

"It has to perform consistently well when tested under all types of environments," he said.

Overall, wheat production has a huge impact on the university, Gill said. For example, if Kansas has a good crop, then the economy will be better off and there will be an increased chance of employees getting pay raises. Gill said it's funny that some Kansas residents expect two things from K-State -- to educate their children and to produce wheat varieties.

"K-State's job is to produce highly wholesome wheat that people will enjoy and make sure we have plenty of supply for humanity," he said. "It's part of our culture, food, and who we are."

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture contribute to K-State's wheat program and cooperate in the development and release of new varieties. The Kansas Crop Improvement Association increases and distributes seed to growers and provides funds for the program. Kansas State University's Agricultural Experiment Station, through the Kansas Legislature, provides a major amount of funding. The Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Crop Improvement Association, United States Department of Agriculture, and other agencies furnish additional funding for research.


Photo courtesy Pat Melgares.

Winter 2003