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Better Wheat by Design

July 28, 2012
By: John Buckner, Farm Journal Executive Editor
Better Wheat by Design
Using a gravity table after screening helps capture high-test-weight seed, says Shane Ohlde of Ohlde Seed Farms in Palmer, Kan.  

Quality means high yields and market opportunities

The names are nothing you’d remember. Only someone in a white lab coat with a terse tone in their voice could rattle off "5187J" or "AGS-2035" as though they were members of the family. The notes on the clipboard read "good for cracker use" and "concerning cookie height, but very good flour profile." Somewhere among the flour yield percentages, the softness equivalent scores and the cookie spread diameters is wheat’s future.

At dirt level, growing wheat might seem like a million mental miles away from a corporate food manufacturer’s lab. However, cookies, bread and pasta need to be part of the farmer’s variety selection process if wheat is going to compete for equitable future profit, riding shotgun with corn and soybeans, says Ben Handcock of the Wheat Quality Council (WQC).

Handcock’s organization is the go-to source for wheat varieties that have the quality preferred by domestic buyers. "Universities and private companies submit varieties of advanced wheat lines they would like to release. We grow the variety samples and run tests for milling and baking quality on all six classes of wheat and provide this information to our members,

such as ADM, Horizon Milling/Cargill, ConAgra, Bimbo and General Mills," he says.

WQC also helps select varieties and collect samples for a U.S. Wheat

Associates (USW) program called the Overseas Varietal Analysis. As an

export marketing group that is funded by checkoff dollars from 19 state wheat commissions, USW sends flour samples to cooperating customers overseas for quality analysis. "This way, our overseas customers have a voice about the varieties of wheat being developed here in the U.S. for their products," says Steve Mercer, spokesperson for USW.

So as not to be misunderstood, WQC’s Handcock says his group doesn’t have any authority over which varieties get released—they just tell about the specific characteristics of varieties in a particular wheat class, such as hard red winter wheat.

"We compare these varieties [in their respective classes] against each other. For example, take the hard red winter wheat varieties from Texas to South Dakota. We send flour out to

all the milling companies, universities and private bake labs. These are our cooperators and they do it [lab testing] for free because they want to know what’s coming down the chain

in the next three to five years," Handcock says. "Whichever variety passes within the general consensus in five years or so, that’s usually the No. 1 variety in the state for which it’s adapted."

Finally, this information is exchanged with the various state wheat commissions, which create lists of recommendations that help farmers choose varieties to grow for the coming year.

Baking quality or yield?

"We are starting to pay more attention to the quality of the product that we want to produce—the milling, baking and protein quality of each variety," says farmer Shane Ohlde of family-operated Ohlde Seed Farms in northeastern Kansas. "We have to be conscious of what our end users want. They want higher-protein wheat and

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Seed Guide 2012

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