Grazing for Grain Resilience

January 23, 2016 01:18 AM

Hungry cattle help researchers discover drought-resistant wheat variety

Growing a crop from drought-tough ground is becoming the norm for many farmers. A group of researchers, with the help of hungry cattle, has discovered a wheat variety that thrives when water is scarce.

To mimic real-world application and expedite testing, Brett Carver, regents professor and wheat breeder at Oklahoma State University (OSU), and his team use cattle to generate experimental lines of wheat varieties. They plant a large plot with thousands of wheat plants, allow them to grow to a certain stage and let cattle graze. The grazing forces the plants into a high-stress, drought-like scenario.

From there, the team looks at the progeny of each wheat plant to determine which plants better withstand stress and produce more grain. Those plants become parent lines for university varieties. Using traditional breeding methods, researchers pair complementary parents in hopes of maximizing yield potential. This breeding process created Bentley, a new drought- and temperature-tolerant wheat variety from OSU.

“Bentley is touted for its ability to thrive in tough conditions,” Carver explains. “Under drought, it excels, and when we have late or early freezes, it responds and recovers well.”

Carver and his team have been testing Bentley for seven years, about twice as long as normal. “We made sure we had the data before the release in 2015,” Carver says.

Additional years of testing allowed researchers to establish a strong seed bank and provide more consistent yield expectations. Under typical conditions, OSU provides 2,000 bu. to 3,000 bu. to the seed company licensed to sell the variety. Thanks to extra testing, they had 7,000 bu. to 8,000 bu.

Compared with Gallagher, which is currently the industry-leading wheat variety in Oklahoma, Bentley averages 2 bu. per acre more.

“We actually recommend you don’t put [Bentley] under full irrigation because the yield increase is not justified by excessive applications of water,” Carver says. “It really doesn’t need that much water, just at certain times.” Wheat, even drought-resistant Bentley, needs water when it’s using more energy, such as during emergence, moving into reproductive stages, just before flowering and in mid-grain fill when extremely dry.

OSU licensed the Bentley variety through Oklahoma Genetics Inc., who will be selling the product in Texas, Oklahoma and southern Kansas. 

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