Although agronomic characteristics and yield continue to be top priorities for the Kansas State University white wheat breeding program, baking quality has become equally important, thanks to a grant from ADM Milling.

The K-State Agricultural Research Center at Hays, Kansas, and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are two years into a five-year, $325,000 investment in the K-State Hays hard white wheat breeding program. This strategic partnership is benefitting the entire wheat industry by improving hard white wheat varieties.

Today, K-State wheat breeder Guorong Zhang provided ADM Milling executives and wheat growers with an update on the status of the collaboration. He said the grant helped incorporate advanced technologies into the wheat breeding program.

"ADM's investment makes it possible for us to use doubled haploid and marker assisted selection in our breeding program, and we are expecting to deliver elite varieties at least two or three years quicker than in the past," said Zhang.

Wheat breeding typically takes ten to 12 years, but with advanced technologies, Zhang and his colleagues are able to shorten that timeline to eight or nine years.

Focus on characteristics and yield

"This grant has been a huge support for us to strengthen the processing qualities while improving agronomic traits," said Zhang. "It allows us to investigate the effects of quality characteristics and use this information in our breeding program to make efficient selection on processing quality traits."

In other words, agronomic characteristics and yield have traditionally been the main priorities for the K-State white wheat breeding program. If a line produced top yields, it would be moved along to advanced trials and field plots. Only after it had been advanced for several years would the line be tested for flour quality such as in bread.

"We're switching the order and evaluating for quality at the beginning and then agronomics and yield," said Zhang.

However, this will not sacrifice agronomic characteristics or yield because researchers are working to incorporate both production and end-use evaluations into their determinations on which lines to advance and which to discard.

"We won't release a variety that doesn't have the necessary yield and agronomics because farmers won't grow it," he said.

Varieties that are crossed directly as a result of this grant won't be available until a few years after the grant period.

"This grant allows us to improve quality for the future," says Zhang, "and focus on quality traits, such as baking quality."

Zhang reports that over the past two years, he and his colleagues have characterized about 1,000 breeding lines with molecular markers, determined the effects of those markers on processing qualities and identified several lines with possible new genes related with grain protein or polyphenol oxidase.

They have also developed about 1,000 doubled haploid lines that are involving processing qualities in white wheat. Using marker assisted selection, for example, they found about 100 lines with Bx7OE allele, important for making a high volume loaf of bread.

Nick Weigel, ADM Milling Vice President of Technical Services, said, “ADM understands that providing the best ingredients to our customers starts with using the right inputs. That means partnering in research to support the whole value-chain, from farmer to consumer.”

ADM initiated the investment in the Kansas Wheat Commission Research Foundation in 2013. The money is being used to strengthen the hard white wheat variety development in the Kansas State University wheat breeding program at Hays. This was the first research project funded by the KWCRF since its inception in 2011.

Justin Gilpin, CEO of the Kansas Wheat Commission, says ADM’s support of the K-State breeding program in Hays is a collaboration that ensures a bright future for white wheat production in Kansas.

“It is vital that as K-State continues its efforts to deliver wheat genetics to farmers more quickly than ever, and that those improvements include the characteristics our biggest customers need,” Gilpin said.

Western Kansas is well-suited for white wheat production due to ideal environmental growing conditions, and K-State’s wheat breeding program at Hays is a leader in white wheat variety research. ADM Milling, based in Overland Park, Kansas, is a leader in white wheat milling, with strong origination and sourcing capabilities in western Kansas.