Wheat Stands Up

July 29, 2011 10:00 AM
Wheat Stands Up

New varieties and demand lend support

Watching for positive grain market trends is like trying to get an old-time compass needle to settle down so you can make a decision to move forward. With better drought-tolerant corn and soybean varieties that compete for wheat acreage, the threat of Fusarium head blight and the fear of Ug99 stem rust entering the U.S., the thought of expanding wheat acres isn’t so appealing. Yet, with weather-related disasters in other wheat-growing areas of the world helping to push wheat prices up to the $8 per bushel level, it can be profit-worthy when compared with corn and soybeans.

If demand remains as strong as expected and the weather cooperates, there’s one easy decision to make to be more profitable: Take advantage of new wheat varietal breeding. Phil Needham, Farm Journal columnist and wheat consultant in Calhoun, Ky., says many wheat farmers are still using tried-and-true varieties instead of new varieties. It’s costing them 5 bu., 10 bu., maybe 15 bu. per acre.

Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension small grains specialist Jeff Edwards agrees, saying that many farmers in Oklahoma and Kansas are still planting the variety Jagger, which was bred
almost 20 years ago.

"On average, that’s a $50 to $75 per acre loss at $8 a bushel," Edwards says. "It pays to be ‘certified’ rather than ‘safe,’" he adds, noting that the cost of certified seed is more than offset by the increased yields.

New varieties. For Edwards’ area of expertise in Oklahoma and Kansas, he likes Duster, an OSU variety that has outyielded all of the older ones.

In intensive management situations, Ruby Lee, a new OSU variety, is a perfect fit, Edwards says. "It does well in non-intensive settings but really shines when pushing for yield," he adds.

"Garrison is a new OSU variety that can be thought of as a replacement for Endurance [an older variety]," he says. "It fits the same grazing profile as Endurance but has better yield potential and better disease resistance."

For northern Oklahoma, Edwards suggests Billings, which is similar to Ruby Lee in that it shines under intensive production. The Kansas State University variety Everest has yielded well in northeastern Oklahoma, but Edwards does not expect it to move into southwestern Oklahoma or into heavy grazing areas.

"WestBred’s Armour has looked good in my trials and Kansas State’s trials," he adds.

Monsanto Company, which bought the assets of WestBred in 2009, agrees with Edwards’ assessment of Armour, which is a hard red winter wheat with broad adaptation.

"Overall, it is one of the highest-yielding winter wheats on the market in the Central and Southern Plains and over the last three years has been among the top performers in the region," says Sara Miller of Monsanto public affairs.

Monsanto is also excited about WB-Cedar, a WestBred variety release that is a sister line to the white wheat variety Aspen. "The new variety has outstanding yield potential, excellent straw strength and has shown strong tolerance to the new strain of stripe rust," Miller says.

Winterhawk is another hard red winter wheat WestBred variety that has shown resistance to stripe rust and also has good test weight and excellent yield potential, she adds. "It emerges well and covers the ground quickly in the fall, with good tillering potential," she explains.

David Boehm, the Northern Plains business manager for Syngenta Cereals, says the company releases varieties each year for several U.S. wheat market classes that improve upon the current available product.

In the Southern Plains, SY Greer is a new release for the hard red winter wheat market, adapted best to Texas and Oklahoma wheat-producing regions. "It has shown good yield potential and good disease tolerance, particularly for leaf rust and stripe rust," Boehm says.

SY Soren and SY Tyra are new releases for the hard red spring (HRS) wheat market in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. "SY Soren has improved protein potential in compar-ison to other higher-yielding varieties and exhibits good Fusarium head blight tolerance, foliar disease resistance and semi-dwarf height with good straw strength," Boehm explains. "For growers fighting the wheat stem sawfly, SY Tyra is a solid-stem HRS line and will be useful in managing that pest in western North Dakota and throughout Montana."

Syngenta also has two new releases in the Central Plains this fall, says the company’s Central Plains manager, Greg McCormack. CJ is an early maturing, high-tillering variety with tolerance to Hessian fly and acid soil. It is targeted for the central and eastern regions of Kansas and Nebraska.

SY Gold is targeted to growers who are looking for maximum yield and willing to manage for it. It fits both irrigation and high-management dryland.

The Pacific Northwest has a wide variety of market classes to choose from, the primary one of which is the soft white winter wheat class.

"SY Ovation is a new release for that market and the first release that was developed using the doubled-haploid breeding program," Boehm says.

"The use of doubled-haploid technology speeds up the breeding process significantly," explains Rollie Sears, a Syngenta research fellow.

"We have the technology using high-throughput genetic markers to develop durable resistance or tolerance to important diseases like Fusarium head scab and Ug99 stem rust," Sears says. "These technologies are not genetic modifications and would not affect market acceptance in any wheat
importing or exporting country," he adds.

Hybrid plants tend to be more vigorous and tolerant to diseases. Unlike other wheat breeding programs, AgriPro, a division of Syngenta, has gotten back into hybrid wheat breeding. "Developing hybrid wheat with the proper protection to both biotic and abiotic problems as well as having the best desirable milling and baking characteristics is a key objective of our wheat breeding programs," Sears says.

The future. On the horizon, farmers can expect more biotechnology to address higher yields with less nitrogen and water and better pest protection. Jerry McReynolds, a Kansas farmer and immediate past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, says: "We want a better wheat product and biotech is the key. We’ve fallen behind in biotechnology and we’re very concerned about that."

Using biotech processes for wheat improvement isn’t far away. Bayer CropScience recently announced a partnership with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to create its first North American wheat breeding station. Bayer CropScience will gain access to the university’s wheat germplasm and will support breeding efforts and education.

Rick Turner, global market head of oilseeds and wheat for Bayer CropScience, says the company is working with third parties on a longer-term breeding program that focuses on where the market is going, as opposed to the current wheat seed market. The question, he says, is: "Where do we build more technology into wheat that is both productive and sustainable?"

Wheat farmers would like the answer to that question from all wheat breeders sooner rather than later.

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