Kansas Wheat officially opens greenhouse expansion

One of the wheat industry’s brightest minds took a look at plants growing in the southwest greenhouse at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan on March 14 and was overjoyed with what he saw.

“I’ve never seen these plants look so healthy,” said Bikram Gill, University Distinguished Professor at Kansas State University and the father of the university’s Wheat Genomics Resource Center. “This facility is state of the art.”

Gill was alluding to a new greenhouse addition that adds 12,750 feet of space for research and development of new wheat varieties.

It is a facility dreamed of and funded by wheat growers, said Mike McClellan, wheat grower from Plainville and chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission. McClellan is proud of the facilities Kansas wheat farmers have built along Kimball Avenue near the K-State sports complex. Most K-Staters look to the south to admire Bill Snyder Family Stadium and Bramlage Coliseum. “I look to the north to see the greenhouses and buildings and am so proud of wheat Kansas farmers have built,” he said.

Building on the foundation

The Kansas Wheat Research Center was built in 2013 and houses the staffs of Kansas Wheat, Heartland Plant Innovations, the Kansas Wheat Alliance and Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. The original complex had four greenhouse bays, which provided space for doubled haploid work to help speed up development of new wheat varieties.

“We quickly ran out of greenhouse space we’d built in the last phase,” said McClellan. He said most of the funding for the addition came from the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas State University and U.S. Economic Development Association with support from the Dane Hansen Foundation.

During the ribbon cutting, John Floros, dean of K-State’s College of Agriculture, said the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center addition enhances Kansas’ position as a global leader in wheat research. “Together we can build a better tomorrow than what we have today,” he said. “It is a perfect example of what we can do when we work together.”

McClellan said he is excited about the research occurring in the greenhouse facility. Among the objectives of the farmer-leaders of the Kansas Wheat Commission include improving wheat quality without sacrificing yield so that wheat grown in the U.S. will continue to be highly sought after by domestic and international consumers. Wheat checkoff funds also are being used to develop gluten-free varieties so that people with celiac disease can consume wheat-based products.

Who is using it

The addition gives Kansas Wheat’s research staff a total of 22,750 square feet of greenhouse and preparation space for wheat plant research. The four new bays will be used by Kansas State University’s Wheat Genomics Research Center to grow wild relatives of modern wheat varieties, from which a team of researchers are working to discover genes for resistance to viral, bacterial, fungal and insect pests. Once these genes are identified, they are transferred to modern breeding lines, ultimately to be released for farmers around the world.

The facility also has space for the Poland Lab for Wheat Genetics at Kansas State University, which focuses on developing improved wheat germplasm along with novel breeding tools and methodologies. Research areas include technologies such as developing uses for drones in wheat improvement, high-throughput phenotyping, prediction models for wheat breeding and genome sequencing.

Finally, Heartland Plant Innovations will use two bays for its work on gene discovery, trait validation and crop improvement. It was created with the intent of revolutionizing plant breeding and genetics. HPI focuses on doubled haploid production (a process that cuts five to seven years off of wheat variety development), trait development, contract research and wide crossing (a joint program with the WGRC that inserts traits from ancient wheat into modern varieties).

Besides greenhouse space, there are separate rooms for potting, seed processing and soil preparation, plus a soil room to receive and handle bulk potting. Special temperature control and grid lighting systems are also included in the project. 

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or [email protected].