Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 8pm

MSU releases new winter wheat grain and forage varieties

The MSU winter wheat breeding program has released new winter wheat varieties in grain and forage, both intended as replacements for two of Montana’s most-planted winter wheat varieties.

Commercial seed of both will be available in 2020. Phil Bruckner, left, Montana State University professor of plant sciences and plant pathology and winter wheat breeder, and Jim Berg, research associate in the winter wheat breeding program, have bred two new varieties of winter wheat, which will be available commercially by 2020. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

BOZEMAN – The Montana State University winter wheat breeding program has released two new varieties intended as replacements of MSU-bred winter wheat lines Willow Creek and Yellowstone – two of Montana’s most widely planted wheat varieties.

“I guess you could say these new varieties are both younger, better, upgraded versions of their parents,” said Phil Bruckner, MSU’s winter wheat breeder and professor of plant sciences in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture.  

The two new varieties, named “Ray” and “FourOsix,” are specially bred for Montana’s growing conditions and share genetic characteristics of the high-yielding grain variety Yellowstone and forage variety, Willow Creek.

Yellowstone and Willow Creek were released by MSU 13 years ago. In that time, Bruckner said, genetic resistance to diseases and pests breaks down and climatic and environmental changes can alter the overall integrity and performance of wheat lines.

“We took the best qualities from Willow Creek and Yellowstone and adapted them into new lines that hopefully perform better in terms of end-use market qualities and genetic performance,” Bruckner said. “As a breeding program, we have an obligation to position producers for future success with varieties that are profitable.”

“Ray” is MSU’s new forage variety and “FourOsix” is the new grain variety. Both varieties are resistant to stripe rust, a common wheat disease in Montana. 

Bred as an awnless livestock forage, Ray is named after the late MSU Professor Ray Ditterline, who taught plant sciences courses in the College of Agriculture and bred alfalfa forage varieties for the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station for 34 years.

“Dr. Ditterline was a mentor of many students and a dear colleague and friend,” Bruckner said. “We wanted to honor his legacy in Montana agriculture and his history at MSU by naming the new line after him.”

Ray is suitable as a one-cut, annual hay crop in Montana, producing similar hay yields and forage quality as Willow Creek. Unlike its forage predecessor, Willow Creek, Ray has a much higher seed yield and is bred for dual-use as a forage and a cereal grain crop. Bruckner said if producers wanted to grow Ray to produce grain, it would perform well at the elevator because its protein and market characteristics are similar to the variety Yellowstone. Statewide field tests of Ray showed a higher seed yield than Willow Creek, due to its higher tillering, earlier heading, shorter height and increased winter hardiness compared to Willow Creek, Bruckner said.

FourOsix, the cereal grain variety, was named by Jim Berg, MSU winter wheat research associate.

“The state’s area code has been popular in marketing recently and this variety performs well across Montana, so we thought FourOsix was a good fit,” Berg said.

Berg said FourOsix is intended as a replacement to Yellowstone, well-known for its high yield and milling and baking qualities. Yellowstone accounted for 18.8 percent of the state’s planted wheat acreage in 2016, according to the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Yellowstone has been a favorite over the years, but what’s different about FourOsix is its superior milling and baking qualities,” Berg said. “It’s a beefed-up version of Yellowstone.”

Berg said Four0six produces “very good” milling and baking qualities. The National Wheat Quality Council, a coordinated effort by breeders, producers and processors to improve wheat quality, endorsed FourOsix for its high loaf volume and flour absorption and mixing characteristics.

FourOsix also has a higher test weight and grain protein than Yellowstone, Berg said, though it doesn’t have a yield significantly better than Yellowstone.  FourOsix heads earlier than Yellowstone and is shorter than Yellowstone, allowing it to stand better, he said.

Doug Holen, Montana Foundation Seed Program manager, said MSU foundation seed of Ray and FourOsix will be distributed to certified seed producers this fall and will potentially be available for the 2019 growing season. Holen said MSU certified seed of Ray and Four0six will be available in 2020.

Winter wheat is planted in the fall months and undergoes a vegetative state in the winter as the seeds are insulated by snow cover. The wheat plant resumes growth in early spring for a summer harvest. Last year, Montana farmers planted 2.2 million acres and harvested 105 million bushels of winter wheat and harvested 1.8 million acres of alfalfa hay, according to the USDA.  

The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and the MSU College of Agriculture’s Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology host world-renowned plant breeding programs in pulse crops, barley and spring and winter wheats, which emphasize both traditional and molecular approaches in plant breeding and genetics in selecting for high yields, pest resistance and high product quality. More information about MSU’s plant breeding programs is available at http://plantsciences.montana.edu/.

Jenny Lavey, MSU News Service 04/10/2018 

This story is available on the Web at: http://www.montana.edu/news/17627