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Public Colorado Wheat Breeding Program Provides Varieties Growers Need

Public Colorado Wheat Breeding Program Provides Varieties Growers Need

Colorado State University wheat breeding program finds strength grower support.

More than $850,000 generated through the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee and the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation is helping Colorado State University continue its wheat research programs.

That represents a grower investment as well as royalty earnings on seed sales for varieties developed by CSU's Wheat Breeding and Genetics Program, an effort strongly backed by the state's producers in support of public variety work.

With congressional earmark funding which supplements the wheat breeding program destined to end, "it is more important than ever that growers continue to support our work," says Scott Haley, a CSU wheat breeder who heads up the program.

Royalties from two 2011 releases – Byrd and Brawl CL Plus – are expected to generate new income for the program, which already has two more varieties in the wings for 2012 release.

"Both of the releases targeted for next fall are hard whites," says Haley. "We need more hard whites in view of the increased interest among milling companies."

Haley says his public breeding program is highly effective in bringing growers what they want in terms of yields and quality -- including work to develop solid stems to avoid attacks by the soft stem saw fly which recently surfaced in northeast Colorado.

Making about 2,000 crosses a year in the effort to bring the industry new varieties, Haley says the system has a wide array of hard red and hard white germ plasm on hand.

Five research associates – four which hold masters degrees – a post-doctoral scientist working on drought stress tolerance and new genomics-based breeding technology, and three PhD grad students, along with many undergrad assistants complete the program he heads.

The economic impact of their work ripples many-once a new release is adopted commercially. While it may take a decade and $10 million to bring a new selection to the growers' fields, a widely planted release like CSU's Hatcher "easily provides an annual benefit of $20 million to $30 million," he estimates.

That's based in the improved yields and market prices, he explains, noting that this benefit is for just one of the CSU varieties. Add in others growers use, and the benefit ratio leaps even higher.

The business of variety development is a highly cyclical, with changes in pests and diseases constantly bringing new challenges for improvements in resistance and tolerance. "Stripe rust (strains) are changing, Russian wheat aphid (types) are changing – just a couple of examples of  why we have to continue to breed new varieties for growers," says Haley.

"Pest resistance is constantly in flux."

But perhaps the biggest plus from Haley's lab is in wheat quality. "Colorado had a miserable reputation for wheat quality," he says.  Not long ago, varieties like TAM 107, a Texas A&M product not well suited for Colorado, covered more than half the state's wheat land with what he labels "very substandard quality."

Things got so bad that the milling industry avoided buying Colorado wheat, he recalls. "Since then, we have significantly changed the quality profile of our wheat," Haley notes. "They're no longer penalizing Colorado wheat on quality."

As a result, Colorado wheat growers voice a strong support for the breeding program. "They tell me they want to maintain a competitive, viable productive public wheat breeding effort in Colorado.

Many producers who also grow crops like corn find their variety selections are limited to private seed companies. In wheat, growers want the public choice, Haley says. "They see value in having the option we provide."

For more on CSU wheat breeding, see the November and December issues of Western Farmer-Stockman.

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