Innovation in the breadbasket of the world

Public and private investment grow rewards across the wheat chain

The reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can feel bleak. This year farmers are projected to plant the second lowest total wheat acreage on record for the U.S. since 1919—47.3 million acres.

Winter wheat acres for 2018 are at the second lowest acreage since 1909, at 32.7 million acres. From new branding efforts, to new structures, to innovative research many scientists and industry professionals across the High Plains are working to ensure that the breadbasket of the world stays right here.

Kansas looks to branding

Farmers growing hard white winter wheat have dealt with a catch-22 situation for years. To grow demand, they must grow more white wheat. But to grow the quantities to meet demand, they must have an established market for the wheat that makes segregation worth the price.

Kansas Wheat is rolling out a branding campaign, “High Plains Platinum,” that aims to capture the added value of hard white wheat while still growing production.

Aaron Harries, vice president of research and operations with Kansas Wheat, explained that Platinum is a project developed with a grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture to establish and promote the high quality of hard white winter wheat grown in Kansas. Farmers plant Platinum-identified hard white winter wheat varieties that have excellent quality characteristics that millers and bakers demand. At harvest, the farmer takes his Platinum white wheat grain to a participating elevator that can then market that wheat to buyers as meeting the standards established by the program.

“It’s an effort to differentiate by establishing a market for hard white wheat through branding,” Harries said. In some ways it’s similar to a program like Certified Angus Beef, where the animal has to meet certain characteristics to be able to be labeled a CAB carcass. In this case, Platinum white wheat must have: a minimum 12 percent protein; a minimum 60-pound test weight; less than 11.5 percent moisture; and contain less than 2 percent other classes of wheat. However, because of grain inspection rules a label or certificate can’t be attached to white wheat coming from a producer’s field.

With this attempt to establish a level of quality under the Platinum name, the hope is farmers and elevators can fully capture the value of their crop. And if this proves successful, the hope is neighboring states can come on board under the Platinum umbrella too.

More information can be found at or by calling Kansas Wheat at 785-539-0255.

Oklahoma builds capacity

With its distinctive orange siding, the new $4 million Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks complex along U.S. Highway 51 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, is easy to spot.

In November 2017, OFSS cut the ribbon on its new 20,000-square-foot facility at the Oklahoma State University Agronomy Research Station in Stillwater. The new space is double the size of previous OFSS facilities and includes a warehouse, cold room, machinery shed and office space. All to support the growing demand for certified seed from the public breeding program at Oklahoma State University.

Jeff Wright, coordinator of production and operations at OFSS, said this facility’s improved storage space means they can keep larger numbers of seed available for seedsmen to increase earlier in the variety release process.

“We are trying to have a larger amount of seed available so that when we do release a variety, it can get to the farmer at the end certified level quicker,” Wright said. For example, when the OSU variety “Duster” was released by Brett Carver, there was just 300 bushels of foundation seed out of experimental trials to be increased by seedsmen into registered seed and then finally certified seed for farmers. It was two to three years from the announcement to certified seed.

Today, OFSS cuts ahead in the breeding process and begins increasing more experimental lines that show promise to be worthy of a variety name. When “Smith’s Gold” was released recently, OFSS already had on hand 8,000 bushels of foundation seed to increase, cutting the time from variety release to certified seed.

Currently, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission estimates that half of all the state’s wheat acres are planted with OSU-bred varieties. Sales revenue from those varieties goes back to OFSS to support future wheat breeding and research efforts. OFSS also licenses certain wheat varieties to Oklahoma Genetics, Inc.

Colorado releases grassy weed control

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Grassy weed control in wheat acres is a challenge to growing high quality grain the market demands. But a new discovery out of Colorado State University is poised to revolutionize the market.

CoAXium is a wheat production system using the genetic trait, AXigen, identified through traditional wheat breeding methods at Colorado State University. Wheat varieties with the AXigen gene are immune to the Aggressor herbicide, a Group 1 ACCase inhibiting herbicide that controls grassy weeds, such as brome, feral rye, jointed goatgrass and wild oats.

Brad Erker is the new executive director for the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation. The CWRF takes ownership of CSU wheat varieties, and provides money to the wheat breeding program from royalties charged on those varieties.

“Growers on the board told CSU that they wanted a competitive trait product that was similar to how Clearfield worked,” Erker said. However, the AXigen trait is not compatible with the Clearfield system and vice versa, he added.

This summer the first registered seed of the first varieties with the AXigen trait will be available for increase, with a full commercial launch in 2019.

For farmers, though, the CoAXium system allows them to use a lower priced herbicide, with better performance on rye and cheat grasses than what’s available today, Erker said.

“And, as CWRF owns the trait, there will be a trait fee on the seed,” he added. “But, we will invest those genetic royalties back into CSU research. And the trait is extendable to other varieties and other classes of wheat.” The future potential of this trait can improve wheat on a global scale and CWRF, and the licensing can further enhance the capabilities of the CSU wheat breeding program for the betterment of all Colorado wheat growers.

“If we have a successful launch of a trait from a public institution like this, it shows that trait development at CSU is fruitful,” he said. “It could be the start of more patentable traits, and proving we can tackle the big problems wheat farmers face.”

For more information, visit

Texas drones gather data

The next time you drive by a Texas AgriLife wheat variety plot, don’t be surprised to see a drone flying overhead.

Jackie Rudd, Texas A&M University wheat breeder, explained how his breeding program is utilizing new technology to better capture and crunch data.

“We’ve used a lot of sensor type data collecting rigs, from ground rigs, to carrying a Greenseeker and even taking photos plot by plot,” he said. “But this year we jumped in and we are using a drone to fly over plots and collect data.” Texas A&M invested in a data processing system that takes the data collected by the drone’s 10 to 15 minute flyover. Then, it tabulates that data and in a day’s time Rudd has at his fingertips plot by plot data and can make breeding decisions.

“With the drones we can cover a lot of material in a short time,” Rudd said. “We are increasing our efficiency and doing more with the resources we do have. We can reduce the time frame new varieties come out, and provide growers more and better material.”

And, the drone flyovers can happen on a daily basis, allowing Rudd to see how the plant changes day by day according to weather and other stressors. This year alone he’s been able to see daily changes to moisture on the dryland plots that he’s never been able to capture and quantify before. That makes a big difference when you’re trying to breed the next wheat variety that will perform well in harsh environmental conditions.

Nebraska uses genetic markers for improvement

Data is the key to finding the next great wheat variety. Today, with the sequencing of the wheat genome, Stephen Baenziger, wheat breeder for the University of Nebraska, can use genetic markers along with estimated breeding values to better select what lines to advance in his purebred and hybrid wheat variety trials.

“So, let’s say you go to a field and a couple of lines look similar, but you can predict one will work better,” Baenziger said. “Phenotypic augmented with genotypic data shows us which is better.” It’s evaluating by sight, but also with genetic information found from DNA sequencing.

In 2016, Baenziger had a major hail event at one of his nurseries and lost half of the lines in his experimental trials. There wasn’t enough seed left to save and evaluate. Years of work would have been lost.

But, using genomic data, he was able to save and advance 30 percent of his hailed lines because he was able to predict which wheat varieties would contain what desirable traits based on the markers found in their DNA sequences. Genomic data saved six years of wheat breeding and countless dollars invested. Ultimately, this tool means his program can be more efficient and provide a quicker return on investment for wheat growers.

“If we add just 1 bushel per acre in yield to the state of Nebraska, using a 1 million bushel crop at $5.25, that’s over $50 million at the farm gate,” he explained. “For every $1 invested, farmers get $12.50 back.”

By being more efficient advancing better varieties to growers quicker, that’s roughly $16 to $17 million per year back to Nebraska growers, he explained.

“We are committed to the economic sustainability of the American farmer,” Baenziger said. “We’re going to try to get high quality and profitable wheat and save farmers money while they produce more.”

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].