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WSU to Involve Growers Even More in Wheat Variety Development

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington wheat growers are about to become even more involved in the consideration and approval of new wheat varieties developed by scientists in the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

CAHNRS Dean Dan Bernardo, working with leadership from the Washington Wheat Commission and the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, has launched several new initiatives to strengthen ties between the wheat industry and WSU wheat research.

“These initiatives are a way to make a great wheat research program even better,” Bernardo said. “The WSU wheat research program is one of, if not the, best of its kind in the country, in large part because of the strong industry support we’ve enjoyed. Strengthening our already-strong ties with wheat growers will help us be more responsive to their needs.”

Specifically, CAHNRS will be working with industry to:

  • Create a new WSU Wheat Research Advisory Committee comprised of a mix of industry representatives as well as WSU faculty and administrators
  • Refine the composition, policies and leadership of the Variety Release Committee to make it more responsive to grower needs
  • Revise the Wheat Commission’s current research grant processes to provide more specific direction to scientists and to ensure research outcomes are delivered
  • Develop an up-to-date set of research priorities endorsed by the wheat commission
  • Develop a business plan for WSU wheat research.

The initiatives spring from recommendations made in an external review of the program earlier this year. WSU asked and paid for the review as a way to ensure and improve the quality of the program.

“The Review Team found outstanding talent at all levels,” the report reads. “Facilities we observed are world class. Support from growers and other stakeholders has been strong and consistent. We heard that WWC funding for wheat research and extension programs at WSU is the largest in the country, and this appears to be true. This amounts to a strong, sustained expression of confidence from producers.”

Challenges facing the program in the future, according to the report, include sustaining the development and release of wheat varieties that meat the changing needs of Washington wheat growers, growing competition from wheat varieties released by other states and the private sector, and increasing interest in organic or sustainable production systems. The reviewers also recommended that communication both within the wheat breeding team and between wheat breeders and industry be strengthened.

“It was very beneficial to have both our strengths and challenges reaffirmed by outside reviewers,” said Ralph Cavalieri, associate dean and director of the WSU Agricultural Research Center. “We have one of the premier wheat breeding programs in the country, and we want to keep it that way.”

Washington state ranks fifth in the nation in wheat production, with 1.8 million acres of winter wheat and 500,000 acres of spring wheat. Wheat is the third largest commodity in the state.

WSU scientists have developed nearly all of the soft white winter club varieties, 69 percent of the soft white spring wheat, 62 percent of the soft white winter wheat and 55 percent of the hard red winter wheat varieties. Excellence in variety development is an historical strength of the university. Its development of semi-dwarf wheat fueled the “green revolution” in the 1960s.

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Media Contacts

Ralph Cavalieri, ARC director, 509-335-4563