By Jennifer M. Latzke - High Plains / Midwest Ag Journal
A new wheat variety is making waves on the High Plains–amber waves.
Denali is a hard red winter wheat variety with a Colorado heritage that has the potential for top dryland and irrigated yields in Colorado and throughout the High Plains.
Breeders at the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station first identified the particularly promising wheat cross in 2005 during a stripe rust epidemic in Colorado. “This particular cross was really interesting, it showed a very high level of stripe rust resistance overall,” explained Scott Haley, Colorado State University breeder. “I recall my crew scratching their heads, wondering why I wanted so many lines selected from this cross. We began cooperative testing with Kansas State University in trials out in western Kansas. Hatcher is a variety that has done well in western Kansas and this one was showing to be about 8 percent or so better than Hatcher.”
In 2010, Colorado submitted the experimental Denali line to the Southern Regional Performance Nursery for testing in plots from Texas to South Dakota. The breeders found that it did exceptionally well in western Kansas.
Haley explained Denali’s parentage traces back to a Texas A&M University variety, TAM111, and another unreleased CSU experimental line with parentage similar to Hatcher. In preliminary tests, Colorado breeders saw that it showed resistance to stripe rust and Hessian fly. While stripe rust is a significant problem in Colorado, Hessian fly is not and Haley knew growers in parts of Kansas were looking for varieties with that resistance. Denali also had excellent test weights, straw strength and good milling quality with average baking quality. Even with its taller plant stature compared to varieties such as Hatcher and Ripper, severe lodging of Denali was only seen under extremely high yielding irrigated conditions of above 130 bushels per acre.
Denali’s story, though, isn’t just that it’s a new wheat variety with promise for the particular needs of High Plains farmers. It’s a great example of how public wheat breeders continue to work together for the benefits of the wheat farmers in their states.
In recent years, with the rush to develop a biotech wheat from private wheat breeding programs, the climate of wheat breeding has changed. Public wheat breeding programs once traded varietal lines or germplasm freely. For example, if a breeder in Oklahoma discovered a variety with promise for Kansas wheat producers, he would share it with the Kansas wheat breeders, and vice versa.
“Prior to 10 or 20 years ago, it was common for a public university in development of a wheat variety to look to other states, maybe share some seed of an advanced line, test that line in the state or maybe even share germplasm or parent lines,” explained Daryl Strouts, executive director of the Kansas Wheat Alliance.
But today some public breeding programs are signing collaborative agreements with private companies for the benefit of their wheat breeding programs. That means that those varietal lines and germplasms now have new value, especially in public programs that are capturing royalties from seed sales for investment back into their efforts.
“When university-developed wheat varieties started to be released with royalties attached, it shook up the system; a value was established,” Strouts said. “If many universities had a hand in the development of a wheat variety, there was no mechanism in place to share that value,” he explained.
Now many, if not all, state wheat breeding programs have some sort of organization or process to market and commercialize public wheat varieties, Strouts explained. In Kansas, that’s the Kansas Wheat Alliance. In Colorado that’s the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation.
And together, they are marketing Denali.
Strouts explained that KWA and the CWRF have a contract that allows KWA to license Denali to seed growers in the state of Kansas, sharing those royalties with CWRF. “Without this system, we would not have Denali in western Kansas,” Strouts said. “It wasn’t practical for CWRF to release a variety into Kansas and oversee its increase and use. This gives western Kansas farmers access to a really good variety and another choice out there. We’ll see more of this in the future.”
Strouts said that marketing groups like KWA, CWRF and Oklahoma Genetics Inc. have started looking over varieties in each other’s public breeding programs for those wheat varieties that may have a better fit in another state and creating more marketing agreements like Denali’s.
While the bulk of the royalties from Denali sales will go back to CWRF–as the variety’s developer–a part does stay in Kansas for use in its public program. Strouts said another portion will go into a regional research fund that public breeders in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas will be able to tap into for regional varietal testing and other projects.
As a breeder, Haley said royalty funds are helping public breeding programs like Colorado’s invest in new plot combines, lab equipment and more.
“It’s only been the last 10 to 12 years that those royalties have really started to bring money back into our program,” Haley said. And they’re starting to help offset some of the loss in federal and state funding for research.
Strouts said in Kansas, that the penny and a half per pound of royalties farmers pay for certified seed are helping bring public wheat breeders the tools they need to be innovative, like a new planter equipped with GPS or the new greenhouses at Hays, Kan.
More importantly, agreements like the one between Kansas and Colorado keeps the lines of access open to both public breeding programs.
Growers win when breeders have access
Haley said as a public wheat breeder continual access to germplasms from colleagues in the public sector is critical. “I went looking into the last 40 years of wheat breeding, looking at the varieties that were released and trying to figure out their immediate crossing parents,” Haley said. “The question I wanted to answer was how much came from other sources, whether public or private? I estimated that about 40 to 60 percent of any university’s varieties came from parents from their own programs and the rest came from somewhere else. The exchange of germplasm over time is clear. The benefits from free and open exchange of germplasm have been tremendous.”