Drought and wildfires have combined to decimate Russia’s wheat crop this year, creating a void in exports and projections for increased bread prices worldwide. In the U.S., it has created a demand for bread wheat and provided an opportunity for upper Southeast growers.
Seed for traditional wheat varieties has been difficult to find for growers waiting until mid-summer to buy seed. Seed demand is much less for bread wheat, which may create even more interest among growers by the time October-November planting dates come and go.
Bread wheat, also known as hard red winter wheat, is traditionally grown from Texas to Montana, but little is usually planted in the Southeast. Over the past 12-15 years Virginia Tech’s small grains breeding program has turned out a number of bread wheat varieties that offer some options for growers in the upper Southeast.
One of the top milling quality bread wheat varieties in the Virginia Tech program is Soissons, a French variety that is grown throughout western Europe and has adapted well to Virginia growing conditions.
Virginia Tech small grains researcher Marla Hall says Soissons is a very good milling variety. In 2009, in statewide tests, it yielded 62 bushels per acre. Soissons is used in the Virginia Tech breeding program as a cross to incorporate its milling qualities in future varieties.
Speaking at a recent field day at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Virginia Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Warsaw, Va., Hall explained that each bread wheat variety in the statewide tests are sent to a USDA Lab in Manhattan, Kan., and given an overall quality bread wheat score.
Scientists at the USDA facility mill the grain into flour and use the flour to make a test loaf of bread. The baker then judges the loaf on such characteristics as rise, texture, and visually assesses the loaf and gives it a score from 0-6, with 0 being very poor and 6 being excellent.
“We like to grow varieties with a test score of 6, but 5 is pretty good. Soissons, for example, had a test score of 5 in last year’s tests,” Hall said. “Developing varieties with bread wheat scores of 5 or 6 and yields near 80 bushels per acre has been a challenge,” she adds.
Vision 10 is a soft wheat variety that is an old Pioneer breeding line. Pioneer closed down their hard red winter wheat breeding program in Kansas and gave their breeding lines to the scientific community. Virginia Tech tested several of the wheat breeding lines in their Bread Wheat Program and liked the high test score (5 in last year’s test) and released the variety as Vision 10.
Vision 10 and Soissons share a common problem for Virginia wheat growers — yield. Like Soissons, Vision 10 yielded a little over 60 bushels per acre, which is 20 or so bushels per acre lower than other wheat classes grown in the upper Southeast.
Grouped into market classes
Virginia Tech small grains specialist Wade Thomason explains that wheat is grouped into market classes associated with the type of wheat grown and its intended end-use. Wheat classes are determined not only by the time of planting and harvest but also by hardness, color, and shape of the kernel. Wheat within each class has similar characteristics as related to milling, baking, and food use qualities.
The major classes are hard red winter wheat (HRWW), hard red spring wheat, soft red winter wheat (SRWW), durum, hard white wheat, and soft white wheat. Hard red winter wheat is usually grown in semi-arid regions, has a wide range of protein content, usually averaging near 12 percent, and has good milling and baking characteristics for producing bread, rolls, and all-purpose flour.
Soft red winter wheat is grown primarily in higher rainfall areas. It is generally higher yielding than HRWW, but has lower protein content, usually less than 10 percent, and has good milling and baking properties for cookies, cakes, crackers, and some flat breads.
Soft white wheat is grown mainly in the Pacific Northwest, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York. Its protein content is similar to SRWW, and the flour is used mainly for making cakes, muffins, cookies and pastries.
Hard white wheat is a relatively new wheat class. It is closely related to the HRWW but has a milder, sweeter flavor and is used mainly in yeast breads, hard rolls, bulgur,and oriental noodles.
Durum wheat has the hardest kernels of all U.S. wheat. It is a spring wheat that is grown mainly in the northern Great Plains. Durum wheat is used to make semolina flour for pasta production.
The Gold Standard of bread wheat quality is Karl 92 variety. Though it has been surpassed by a number of other higher yielding varieties, Karl 92 is the variety by which quality standards are measured.
In tests in Virginia, Karl 92 had a bread score of 5, but was not one of the higher yielding varieties in the test. Hall notes that Karl 92 is still grown on a limited basis in the Midwest.
Culpepper is an AgriPro release that produced 61 bushels per acre and a bread score of 4.5. Heading date for Culpepper was 125 days.
Vision 20 is another bread wheat variety, released by Virginia Tech in 2008. In 2009, Vision 20 produced 64 bushels per acre, but a bread wheat score of only 3.5.
Lakin, a Kansas State University variety release, is a white bread wheat variety. In Virginia in 2009, it produced 59 bushels per acre. It is a somewhat early variety, with a heading date of 123 and a bread wheat score of 4.
Keeping protein levels high
Hall explains that a number of Kansas State University bread wheat varieties are grown experimentally in Virginia and used for crosses to develop Virginia Tech varieties that will be more compatible to Virginia growing conditions. One critical factor in growing bread wheat in Virginia is keeping protein levels high.
A number of these varieties are tagged VA06HRW lines and several offer promise as future bread wheat varieties for Virginia growers. At the top of the class is VA06HRW-49. This breeding line was released as a new bread wheat variety by Virginia Tech in March of 2010.
In 2009, it had a statewide yield average of 74 bushels per acre and good bread wheat score of 5. It is a mid-season variety and moderately resistant to fusarium head blight. Its one downside is susceptibility to stripe rust. “This is one, we’re excited about and think it has a future for Virginia growers,” Hall says.
VA06HRW-66 is also near the top of the class and also was released in 2010 as a variety by Virginia Tech. In 2009, it had excellent flour yields in Virginia tests, but performed exceptionally well in more northern states.
VA06HRW-3 is a cross with a Kansas State variety. Yields for this variety are encouraging — 72 bushels per acre in 2009 testing. It also had a bread score of 5. A potential problem for this variety is its high susceptibility to fusarium head blight.
Another breeding line, VA06HRW-19, is an early maturing variety, with a heading date of 121. In 2009 tests, it had an average yield of 65 bushels per acre and a bread wheat score of 5. It is a cross with Soissons and is only moderately susceptible to fusarium head blight.
VA06HRW-30 is another early maturing line with Soissons in its pedigree. Yields in 2009 were good — 75 bushels per acre and some resistance to fusarium head blight. The problem with this variety, is a lower than desired bread wheat score of 3.5.
Hall notes that several varieties in the 2007 and 2008 class offer some additional bread wheat variety possibilities for Virginia growers in the next few years.
“It seems when we get a good yielding variety, the trade-off is bread wheat scores. We have several of these newer varieties that have topped 80 bushels per acre, but the bread wheat scores come back low,” she says.