Winter durum wheat breeding project at K-State
Kansas is known for hard red winter and hard white winter wheat, and the wheat breeding programs at K-State are naturally focused on those predominant classes of wheat. But the university also has a small breeding effort in Manhattan focused on winter durum.
Durum is a white wheat used for pasta. Durum wheat is actually a different species than winter wheat or spring wheat. Durum is a tetraploid wheat, having 28 chromosomes, unlike hard red winter and hard red spring wheats, which are hexaploid and have 42 chromosomes each. Durum wheat generally has fewer tillers than hard red winter wheat, but larger head and larger seed.
The U.S. produces spring durum wheat. Most durum wheat is grown in the Northern Plains, primarily North Dakota with some acreage in Montana. There is also a small area of irrigated production in southern Arizona and California, and durum from this region is called “desert durum.”
Most varieties of spring durum are quite susceptible to Fusarium head blight (scab), and this is a significant concern for producers in the Northern Plains. Desert durum production depends on irrigation, and there are increasing demands from other users for water supplies in those areas. As a result, there is some interest in the potential for producing durum wheat in other areas, such as Kansas. There is interest from the processing industry in winter durum production in Kansas because of the proximity to mills, and because of some of the limitations on spring durum in the current areas of production. Also, the industry would like to diversify the sources of production beyond just the two current regions, to the extent that may be possible.
At K-State, researchers are looking at developing winter durum varieties rather than spring durum. There are a few other winter durum breeding programs in Austria, Romania, and at Virginia Tech University.
In producing durum wheat, achieving acceptable quality is critical. In particular, durum wheat needs to be at least 13 percent protein. It also must have acceptable yellow endosperm color. Although durum is a white wheat, its endosperm is a yellow or amber color and this is important in producing acceptable pasta.
Prices for durum wheat are typically higher than for hard red winter wheat – usually about $1 per bushel higher, although this fluctuates. Yields of the winter durum lines we’ve been testing have been lower than hard red winter varieties, however. We will have to get yield levels up before any commercial varieties are released.