Wheat shows promise as harvest approaches despite cold blast and lower forecast

Candace Krebs
The Ag Journal
Oklahoma State University’s chief wheat breeder Brett Carver discusses several new experimental lines in a test plot at the North Central Research Station near Lahoma. The annual field day returned as a hybrid in-person-and-online event after being held virtually last year.

The old adage “rain makes grain” helps explain renewed optimism that this year’s wheat crop will be more abundant than initially expected, overcoming an unusual cold snap in February and initially dry conditions at planting time last fall.

At the conclusion of the annual Wheat Quality Council tour last week, scouts tallied the final yield estimate for the state at 58.1 bushels, 10 bushels higher than USDA’s previous forecast calculated based on May 1 conditions. That’s nearly 10 bushels higher than any previous forecast by the tour, with the closest estimate coming in 2012. Kansas ended up producing 359 million bushels that year.

Cooler temperatures and rain have brought with them some hail loss, flooding and foliar disease pressure, but are also contributing to nearly ideal grain fill conditions in many areas. According to U.S. Wheat Associates, which compiles a weekly harvest report, the weather has slowed the progression of the crop and the harvest in Texas, which got underway in mid-May.

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Extension wheat plot tours are continuing across Oklahoma and Kansas, with the annual Colorado field days scheduled to begin on June 10.

Oklahoma State University specialists hosted their final plot tours this week in the panhandle.

At one of Oklahoma’s best attended tours at the North Central Research Station near Lahoma — held this year as a hybrid in-person-and-online event — OSU chief wheat breeder Brett Carver discussed some of the exciting new experimental lines in the program, including a few which feature traits originally developed and licensed in Colorado.

“We brought in a trait that is already present in a variety called Snowmass from Colorado State University,” Carver said. “It’s a very desirable white wheat in the High Plains that provides a level of gluten strength that just isn’t there in other varieties.”

“Baker’s Ann comes close, but this is Canadian spring wheat strong, and that is something we did not have,” he continued. “Now we’ve got it in a lot of different lines.”

On a farinograph test — basically a treadmill for dough to see how much stress it can take — the trait extends mixing tolerance from 8 to 10 minutes to an hour, he said.

The trait has been incorporated into two new versions of Gallager and another promising line descended from Jagger and Ponderosa parentage, he said.

He’s also working with a new soft wheat that functions more like a hard wheat.

“We think it has value. It will be of limited value, but there would be some mills that would take a soft wheat that performs like a hard wheat. That works pretty well in a cracker formulation,” he said.

These new wheat lines will have to be segregated so flour mills can do their own mixing and blending, he said.

“The value comes from the functionality, and we want to preserve that value,” Carver said.

Soft wheat must be kept separate from hard because the two types of wheat are considered different classes.

OSU specialists also touched on the lingering effects of the Arctic cold blast in February. In spite of suppressing tillering among some varieties, it might have been a net positive on balance because it beat back some early disease development, according to plant pathologist Bob Hunger.

Stripe rust, the most prevalent disease he is monitoring this year, has already migrated as far north as Nebraska. Leaf rust is also on the rise due to wet, cool conditions.

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Hunger, who will retire this summer after 39 years, said it was getting too late to spray a fungicide in Oklahoma, but he was hopeful any additional yield impact would remain fairly minimal.

At another stop, OSU weed specialist Misha Manuchehri discussed the popularity of the new CoAxium weed control system, a non-genetically modified herbicide-tolerant technology originally developed by CSU’s wheat breeding program.

The system helps control grassy weeds, such as cheatgrass, which has long been a problem in the state.