Kansas Wheat celebrates release of KS Bill Snyder variety

Wheat breeder Guorong Zhang developed the KS Bill Snyder wheat variety, using parents from the Hays and Manhattan breeding programs. He is pictured with the variety’s namesake, Coach Bill Snyder. (Photo by Bill Spiegel.)

For the past 35 years, Bill Snyder has driven by Kansas State University’s North Agronomy Farm every day on the short commute from his home in northwest Manhattan to the football office on Kimball Avenue.

No matter the season, there were almost always wheat fields along the way. From tender shoots of newly planted wheat to the golden fields waving in the summer, those fields have been a steady part of the legendary football coach’s 27-year career.

“You can’t drive by those fields without thinking about it, and thinking about the people who stand behind what’s there and the dramatic difference they have made in the lives of so many,” Snyder said.

Snyder–who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015–is now part of that wheat community. A new hard red winter wheat variety developed by K-State will be called KS Bill Snyder.

The Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Wheat Foundation and Kansas Wheat Alliance announced the new variety in an event at K-State’s International Grains Program on March 14.

At the event, Snyder reflected on an early trip he made to western Kansas shortly after accepting the job in 1989. On that journey, he met with farmers and ranchers who, after enduring decades of futility on the football gridiron, wholeheartedly supported the new coach of Kansas’ land-grant university. They all asked Snyder, “What can we do for you?”

He was astonished that these agriculturists and entrepreneurs showed the resilience and drive to help his football program thrive.

Coaching legend

“That is the life of a Kansas wheat farmer,” Snyder said.

In his coaching career, Snyder turned around what was arguably the worst college football program in history, leading the Wildcats to a 217-117-1 record in 27 years. Under his direction, the Wildcats went to 19 bowl games.

He changed the culture of Kansas State University and its fans, retired U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said.

“It wasn’t just the wins,” Roberts said. “It was excitement.”

“Students, faculty and generations of alumni had a renewed spirit in their team, their school, their community and, most of all, themselves.”

Senator appreciates Snyder

That spirit has driven agriculture innovation, explained Roberts, who retired in 2021 after four terms as a U.S. senator, preceded by eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Good friends Bill Snyder and Pat Roberts celebrate the release of a new hard red wheat variety, KS Bill Snyder. (Photo by Bill Spiegel.)

“Who would have guessed anyone would combine two of my very favorite things in the world: Kansas agriculture and Coach Bill Snyder?” said Roberts, a longtime member of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, K-State alum and close friend of Snyder’s.

He commented on the similarities between Snyder’s accomplishments as a football coach and the need for continued innovation in agriculture research.

“The stakes are high as we are seeing growing global instability, climate challenges and the result of those climate challenges by government policies, and the increasing need for a stable and affordable food system,” he said.

“The Kansas Wheat Commission and the Wheat Research Foundation…are rising to the challenge with the introduction of the Snyder wheat variety.”

About the wheat

One might think that a hard red winter wheat variety named after a Hall of Fame football coach must be pretty good, and Guorong Zhang, wheat breeder at Kansas State University’s Agricultural Research Center in Hays, said this variety is the best overall variety his team has developed in the 12 years he’s worked as a wheat breeder in Hays.

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(In the above photo) Zhang is pictured with Coach Snyder. (Photo by Bill Spiegel.)

“The combination of drought tolerance, yield potential, standability and disease resistance this is the best,” Zhang said.

Trading cards showing highlights of the new KS Bill Snyder wheat variety show it is best suited for western and central Kansas. (Photo by Bill Spiegel.)

A medium maturity and medium-short height variety suited for the western two-thirds of Kansas and surrounding states, KS Bill Snyder was the top performer in the Southern Regional Performance Nursery in 2022. It has a solid disease package with good to intermediate resistance of stripe, leaf and stem rust, along with moderate resistance to wheat streak mosaic virus (Wsm2 gene) and intermediate resistance to Triticum mosaic virus. It is also resistant to soilborne mosaic virus, allowing it to move into central Kansas, where it has shown decent yield potential.

KS Bill Snyder, along with its very high yield potential, also has good drought tolerance, high tillering capacity, excellent straw strength and good milling and baking quality, Zhang said.

KS Bill Snyder was developed with funding from Kansas wheat farmers through the wheat checkoff, plus donations to the Kansas Wheat Commission Research Foundation.

Bryson Haverkamp, CEO of the Kansas Wheat Alliance. (Photo by Bill Spiegel.)

The variety will be available in limited quantities for planting in the fall of 2024, added Bryson Haverkamp, CEO of the Kansas Wheat Alliance. The KWA collects royalties from each unit of seed produced by the K-State wheat breeding program and distributes those royalties back to the program to support wheat research and variety development.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at [email protected].