Contact Mike Pumphrey via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.
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Drew Lyon: My guest today is Mike Pumphrey. Dr. Pumphrey is an associate professor in the Orville Vogel Endowed Chair of Spring Wheat Breeding and Genetics at WSU. His breeding program focuses on the development of high yielding, high quality, and pest and disease resistant spring wheat varieties for diverse Washington production environments. Breeding goals in his program also include herbicide tolerant wheat varieties, and varieties with specific value added end use characteristics. Mike teaches courses in crop growth and development, and advanced principles in plant breeding and genetics. Hello, Mike.
Mike Pumphrey: Hey, Drew.
Drew Lyon: So, spring wheat breeding programs. Spring wheat is a pretty major crop here, but it’s a rotation crop with winter wheat, which is kind of the king. Growers seem to shift between market classes more in spring wheat than they do with winter wheat. How do you, as a breeder, decide where to focus your breeding program efforts in spring wheat?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, over the past ten years, I’ve really kind of subtly adjusted how much effort we put into hard red spring wheat versus soft white spring wheat, year in and year out. Kind of following market trends, but at some point, I basically decided to take a sort of wholesale inventory of where the germ plasm was in each market class, and just focus on fixing specific problems and improving the real needs in each market class.
Drew Lyon: What were those, from your point of view, in those two market classes you just mentioned?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, we’ve got a lot of different systems and options, production regions, disease and pest issues. But I basically felt like we didn’t have complete enough varieties in each class. So we focused on things in soft white spring wheats, like maturity, aluminum tolerance, stripe rust resistance. Whereas in hard red spring wheat, we continue to drive basically yield. Although protein is a major sort of market trait and characteristic in terms of price levels, really yield is the thing that limits our returns each year.
Drew Lyon: Okay. Seems as if it’s not just in spring wheat, but in a lot of wheat varieties, there seem to be more and more varieties available each year. Yet the acreage of spring wheat seems to be rather consistent. Moves up and down a little bit, but pretty much for the last decade, pretty consistent. Do you think there are too many varieties, or are the newly released varieties just performing that much better than the old varieties did?
Mike Pumphrey: I think we did have gaps in each market class and in each type, and I’ll give you one example. Like right now, we have two spring club wheat varieties, Melba and JD, that are commercially grown. They’re really good varieties. Broadly adapted, but both of them are susceptible to Hessian fly and neither has tolerance to basset soils, or aluminum toxicity. So there are gaps in each of those market classes that really do sort of give credence to a need to release new varieties of each type. That’s just one example we have. You know, in the other market classes, I could give some more examples. So in general, these new varieties are not being adopted and multiplied and purchased unless they truly are an improvement. So market forces and the real value of varieties is determining whether or not they go. So too many, maybe, but at the same time, as long as good ones are getting in growers’ fields, that’s our goal.
Drew Lyon: You’ve had some of your newer varieties really take a good share of the market — a good market share here recently. So they must be performing quite well.
Mike Pumphrey: Yes, I think so. The main driver there is things like I mentioned already. Things like aluminum toxicity and Hessian fly resistance and stripe rust resistance and earlier maturity. And obviously, what we continue to focus on is improving the bar for yield. We’re continually trying to get higher yielding varieties. But I think they’re getting more robust. They’re getting more sort of complete, as we go.
Drew Lyon: Okay, you’ve had some pretty good recent releases. What do you see as the most promising of your up and coming spring wheat varieties in your program?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, like our most recent release is a two gene Clearfield hard red spring wheat called Nat CL Plus. It’s actually not in commercial production yet. We’ve got a very large foundation seed increase. Seed dealers around the state have purchased in advance all of that seed. So you’re going to see it hitting the market. The most recent releases that are in commercial production, like Ryan soft white spring wheat, I’m quite excited about. Ryan is unusual in that it’s an early maturing line from our program, yet it tops the yield trials. Has an overall complete package, and it looks like there might be some value added market opportunities with rye in terms of its noodle quality, which is something we’ve never really been able to establish as an export market here. But it looks like Ryan might break through that barrier.
Drew Lyon: Okay, neat. You mentioned a Clearfield spring wheat earlier. That’s a topic that’s dear to my heart, because the Clearfield wheat system was developed for weed control purposes. How do you see Clearfield spring wheat fitting into our crop rotations around here?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, for the vast majority of the spring wheat acres, it’s really just a — I’ll call it a two gene for insurance. We have enough herbicide carry over in the soil, or residual activity in the soil, of things from like Pursuit or Beyond that in our high rainfall zones all the way to our low rainfall zones, that’s a major limitation to crop rotation with spring wheat. And basically, although you can grow spring wheat following a Clearfield crop or a pulse crop that’s been treated with Pursuit, there is a yield injury. So these are really just removing that sort of barrier to using those particular chemistries. There are cases where people will be applying Beyond to spring wheat crops. But in general, it’s really just improving yield.
Drew Lyon: Okay. It’s to allow them to put that into a clear — or follow behind a Clearfield system more — okay.
Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, with better yield results.
Drew Lyon: So before you had this, I think I might have talked to you one time, you could pick out sometimes in your variety trials or screening trials where a grower had used Beyond before, you could see that yield, that yield drag.
Mike Pumphrey: Year in and year out, I can still see that with specific variety testing trial locations. Where all of a sudden, those group of Clearfield entries, whether they’re released or up and coming lines, grouped to the very top of yield performance. Kind of out of the ordinary. It’s not something you’d expect, but you can tell that that specific location has a residual problem.
Drew Lyon: Okay, interesting. Speaking of weed control and herbicide resistance. There’s been a lot of talk about this CoAXium wheat system. A lot of excitement around it because of the group twos, the ALS herbicides, kind of losing their efficacy on particularly Downy Brome. A lot of excitement. Do you see this system — so we see that in a lot of winter wheat. A lot of excitement around winter wheat. Do you see a similar interest in the spring wheat area?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, the whole CoAXium system and breeding for that tolerance in spring wheat is a different situation than Clearfield on a whole. We’re not worried about soil residual carryover in the same ways. And fortunately, Downy Brome is — well, I shouldn’t say fortunately. I’m not going to wish it well in any way. But spring wheat is used to help manage Downy Brome in the cropping system. Really, for the most part, the only problems we have with Downy Brome in spring wheat is where we’re doing dormant seeded or fall-seeded spring wheat, which has gotten really popular in the dark northern spring wheat market. So our initial germ plasm enhancement efforts and variety development efforts in spring wheat are bringing that CoAXium system into hard red spring wheat that we think can be fall planted.
Drew Lyon: Okay, so that’s where you see bringing this new trait in.
Mike Pumphrey: You know, and I’m probably overlooking some other fits. There are resistant wild oats and other things out there that this might help with in the end. But really, I see broad scale really that fall seeded or dormant seeded hard red spring wheat being the primary use for CoAXium.
Drew Lyon: Okay, and are you actively integrating those genes into your — into some wheat grains?
Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, we’re about two years in now. We’ve had that technology licensed from the originators at Colorado Wheat Foundation and Limagrain for about two years. We’ve made several crosses now to intergress the two gene tolerance into our spring wheat varieties.
Drew Lyon: Okay, so when would you anticipate having the first varieties of that?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, I think everybody always assumes it’s faster [ both laugh ] than it will be. But in reality, I’ll use my first two-gene Clearfield spring wheats as an example. Nothing had been done. No crosses had been made when I started in this position nine years ago. This year, we have a two-gene Clearfield hard red spring wheat on large foundation increase. So that’s eight years.
Drew Lyon: Okay.
Mike Pumphrey: I’m two years into the process. Add six years, you’re looking in that timeline.
Drew Lyon: Okay. Very good. What other new traits or characteristics do you think are important in new varieties, and what do you think you’ll be working on for the next five or ten years?
Mike Pumphrey: You know, a major concern of mine that I’ve talked about with you on this show, and as well as just to growers across the state and in Wheat Life articles is Hessian fly resistance. It’s something that I continue to have increasing concern that we’re at risk for losing the resistance we’re currently using.
Drew Lyon: Okay.
Mike Pumphrey: So really focusing on bringing in new sources of Hessian fly resistance, getting those into adapted backgrounds, getting those into new varieties as a primary concern. Increasingly, over the past several years, I’ve really kind of seen the need or value for some of these specific in use quality traits. We have several examples here in Washington, whether it’s low cadmium wheat varieties, resistant starch, you know, for basically lower glycemic index. Waxy wheats, partial waxy wheats, soft durum wheats. There’s, you know, I think there’s increasingly a value for those kind of specialty, or really nutrition or consumer focused traits. Higher micronutrient contents might be another example.
Drew Lyon: Okay, and these are all things you’re looking at currently?
Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, yeah, we’ve got breeding efforts small to large. We’ve got graduate students and post docs working on specific projects in each of those areas. I just personally think it’s a way to continue to make spring wheat a viable rotation crop — not over the next five to ten years, but even 20 to 30 years.
Drew Lyon: All right, well, we’ll be interested in having you back on in some time to hear how some of these efforts you have currently ongoing are coming along. Thanks for your time today, Mike.
Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, thanks, Drew.
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Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s email@example.com –(firstname.lastname@example.org). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.