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Research Progress Reports

2021-2022 WSU Wheat & Barley Research Reports to the Washington Grain Commission

Improving Spring and Winter Barley Varieties for Malt, Feed and Food (pdf)
Executive Summary: During the first year of this grant and my second full season as the WSU barley breeder excellent progress was made towards improving WSU barley varieties for malt quality. The Washington Grains Commission (WGC) funds were integral in transitioning the WSU breeding program into a spring and winter malt barley breeding program. With the infrastructure now in place for malt quality analysis the bar is set to develop both spring and winter adjunct and all malt barley varieties with consistent quality and agronomics to make the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA) recommended list.

To quickly transition to a fully integrated malt barley breeding programs we established the state-of-the-art WSU Malt Quality Lab (WMQL) which was accomplished through funding provided by the WGC. The fully operational WMQL is producing excellent data as compared to samples provided by Hartwick College. The correlation between the labs is excellent (R² = 0.988) and is well within the tolerance for reproducibility. We are currently malting and analyzing elite 2021 field season yield trials material prioritized by high yielding experimental lines derived from elite-by-elite malt barley parental crosses. The quality data which we can now generate in house weeks from harvest provides great efficiency when selecting early and late generation materials for malt quality. To aid the rapid early generation selection we also developed a new association mapping panel of 364 elite malting lines from the 2021 WSU yield trials. The parents of these lines included eight adapted experimental lines with decent malt quality crossed with seven high quality varieties (Bentley, CDC Copeland, CDC Kindersley, CDC Meredith, AC Metcalfe, Merem, and Cerveza). All 364 lines are being genotyped utilizing the 50K SNP panel and malt quality analysis is currently being generated in the WMQL. The data will be utilized to develop a panel of ~150 DNA markers associated with malt quality traits initially focused on malt extract, alpha amylase, protein, and beta-glucan composition. We are currently developing a new marker system utilizing the Oxford Nanopore MinION DNA sequencing technology to genotype our early generation materials in house. Thus, the early generation spring head rows (~12,000/year), advanced single rep yield trials (~600/year) and multi rep yield trials (~60/year) will be enriched for malt quality so we can concentrate on selecting for farmer traits including yield, height, standability and disease resistance in the field utilizing traditional selection strategies. This will provide much more efficient use of the WGC funds and will allow for greater capacity to analyze later generation material that have already been screened for quality in the WMQL and via marker assisted selection.

Weed Management in Wheat (pdf)
Executive Summary: Weed control is one of the major challenges facing wheat growers in the PNW. To address this problem, the Weed Science Program conducts a multi-disciplinary field, greenhouse, and laboratory research project to address the critical issues that Washington wheat growers face. One aspect of this work is the evaluation of herbicides, both registered and nonregistered, for crop tolerance and weed control in wheat production systems. This work is often, but not always, conducted in partnership with agricultural chemical companies. These field studies allow us to make better recommendations to growers, and they provides us the opportunity to work with the various companies to better refine their labels for the benefit of Washington wheat growers. The results from these studies are summarized in the WSU Weed Control Report, which is shared with the Washington Grain Commission and posted on the WSU Extension Small Grains website annually. The Weed Science Program continues to look at the biology and ecology of troublesome weeds including downy brome, Russian-thistle, and mayweed chamomile.

Field Breeding Hard White & Red Winter Wheat (pdf)
Executive Summary: Due to the price of hard red winter wheat being below that of soft white winter wheat, hard red production in the state has been decreasing. Because of this, we have not proposed for release any new hard red cultivars, but instead have let Scorpio begin to gain traction in the state. Scorpio was released in 2019 and commercial seed is available of this line. Scorpio is broadly adapted to many intermediate and high rainfall growing areas of the state, and have very good end-use quality, very good stripe rust resistance, is resistant to Hessian fly, and tolerant of low pH soils. Scorpio was also one of the best performing lines in 2021, indicating the ability to perform even under drought stress conditions. This combination of traits makes it a desirable cultivar for many production areas. We continue to work with seed dealers to make this cultivar available to growers. We will continue to watch the hard red market and in discussion with seed dealers and growers, determine when new cultivars need to be released to enter the market. We have several lines which have been performing well in trials and will continue to evaluate these for release potential. Continued emphasis is placed on selecting breeding lines with superior quality and disease resistance. We also have a strong interest in developing hard lines with excellent emergence capabilities, and continually screen material to this end. Efforts have been initiated and are ongoing to develop hard cultivars with herbicide tolerance (Clearfield and CoAXium systems are our main targets), snow mold tolerance, and aluminum tolerance. We maintain about 10% of the hard material as hard white and apply heavy selection pressure to ensure adapted material is advanced. Some of these hard white lines have been tested under irrigation in Southern Idaho and have performed very well. There is interest to release these lines for production under irrigation in Idaho.

Use of Biotechnology for Wheat Improvement (pdf)
Executive Summary: In 2021 we continued our effort to advance breeding lines as quickly and efficiently as possibly by employing both molecular marker analysis and doubled-haploid technology. The traits of focus for marker-assisted selection are foot rot resistance, stripe rust resistance, herbicide tolerance, and end-use quality. All these traits are already in established breeding lines and have very good markers to track them. Additional traits include aluminum tolerance, SBWMV, dwarfing genes, low PPO, Fusarium head blight, Hessian fly, and nematode resistance. While we have established some breeding lines with these traits, we are working to increase the number of lines carrying these traits, using markers to track their presence. Thousands of data points were collected on multiple populations to confirm presence of traits of interest. All lines which go through marker testing are then transferred to field testing to confirm the expected phenotype is expressing. Markers were also used to screen all advanced breeding lines to identify presence of known genes. This information, along with field data, was used for selection and advancement purposes as well as for selecting lines which should be cross-hybridized to create future populations. Our genomic selection efforts are proceeding and we have completed our sixth year of phenotypic evaluations in the field and genotyping. Data is being used to validate selection models for multiple traits through the efforts of graduate students funded on various other competitive grant funding. Results have identified the best models to use for specific traits, as well as how to build multitrait models. In the greenhouse, we made approximately 650 crosses consisting mainly of soft white and hard red germplasm. In 2020 we started a large crossing block to incorporate new traits of interest, mainly herbicide resistance and pest resistance traits. These lines have been advanced in the breeding program, with some of them returning to the crossing block for backcrossing. We planted ~2,000 DH plants in the field in 2021 for evaluation. Our screening process continues to be adjusted to improve efficiency as new techniques and traits come into the program for screening.

Field Breeding Soft White Winter Wheat (pdf)
Executive Summary: The year 2021 provided many opportunities in the program to evaluate materials under both severe drought and high temperature conditions. Coming off 2020 which had some of the best growing conditions, it was quite the extreme shift. The advantage of these contrasting years allowed us to view material under very different climatic conditions and identify varieties that could perform well under both conditions. There were many lines in the program that were able to perform well even under the drought conditions and were advanced in the breeding program. Several of these lines were also prepared for Breeder seed production in Othello. Lines with the Axigen trait used in the CoAXium system were further evaluated in 2021 and lines with release potential were advanced to seed production. These will undergo their last year of qualification testing in 2022 and will be proposed for approval to be used in the CoAXium system. We hope to be able to release a number of these lines, that have fit in all the production regions in Washington. We also continue to work with novel herbicide resistance traits to bring new options for weed management into production. The breeding programs continues to maintain a high number of lines within testing at all levels of the program. Double haploid lines are continuing to be produced, along with lines produced under single-seed descent, which is less technically intensive. We continue to have multiple locations where yield testing occurs, along with numerous sites dedicated to testing stress resistance such as snow mold, stripe rust, and low pH soils. Planting into dry conditions in 2021 allowed for extreme pressure on emergence, and screening continues to identify lines with excellent emergence potential. In 2021, no new lines were proposed for release. Many of the lines released in 2019 and 2020 continue to have strong demand for commercial planting, and we continue to work with seed dealers to get these cultivars into the hands of growers. These recent releases all have high grain yield, good disease resistance, and good end-use quality. We anticipate additional releases in 2022 of lines which continue to fit into multiple cropping systems in Washington.

Improving Control of Rusts of Wheat and Barley (pdf)
Executive Summary: During 2021, studies were conducted according to the objectives of the project proposal, and all objectives specified for the third year were completed on time. In addition to the major accomplishments and their impacts listed below, this project results in genetic resources and techniques for further studying the biology and genetics of the pathogens, stripe rust resistance, and mechanisms of interactions between the pathogens and plants.

Club Wheat Breeding (pdf)
Executive Summary: The acres of the club wheat cultivar ‘Pritchett’ increased from 15,183 acres in 2020 to 49,934 in 2021. ‘Castella’ club wheat was available as registered seed in fall of 2020 and occupied 13,873 acres in 2021. Other club wheat cultivars included ‘ARS Crescent’ (23,330 acres), ‘Bruehl ‘(15,104 acres), and ‘Coda’ (600 acres). A small amount of ‘Cara’ was grown in Idaho. The spring clubs ‘Melba’ (7306 acres) and ‘JD’ (3077 acres) rounded out the total club wheat which amounted to 105,224 acres, which was slightly reduced from total 2020 acreage (119,124). However, the winter club acreage in 2021 was increased significantly from 77,999 acres in 2020. Since spring wheat production was devastated by the drought in 2021, the winter club increase sustained the club wheat market. There is currently a shortage of club wheat grain, and the premium is high. White club bids were between $10.20 and $13.75 with an average of $12.12 in Portland on Jan 7, 2022 as compared to soft white wheat (maximum 10.5% protein) bids averaging $10.69. This approximately $1.50 premium is on the high side for sustainability for club wheat purchases. When the premiums are high, the markets shift to other classes. Unfortunately, the poor crop season and sowing conditions in 2021 also resulted in a shortage of club wheat seed for the future.

Our major goal is to develop club wheat cultivars with the excellent club wheat end use quality that is expected by markets in Asia, and with competitive crop performance. To that end, we released ‘Cameo’ in Feb. 2021. Although the main club wheat production region is central Washington in the < 15-inch rainfall zone, growers in the higher rainfall regions continue to grow the very old club wheat cultivars ‘Cara’ and ‘Coda’. The spring club wheat cultivars ‘J.D.’ and ‘Melba’ are also popular. While spring club wheat will continue to be an important tool in rotations, there was a need for a new winter club targeted the Palouse region of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. As compared to other club wheat cultivars grown in the high rainfall region, Cameo has better agronomic performance than other clubs in trials on the Palouse, better stripe rust resistance than ARS Crescent, and tolerance to eyespot, soilborne wheat mosaic virus, acid soils and Hessian fly. Cameo has consistent high test weight, mid-season maturity, moderate height, excellent club wheat quality, moderate tolerance to low falling numbers, similar to that of ARS Crescent, and it consistently grades as white club. The pedigree of Cameo is ARSC96059- 2/IL01-11934//ARSC96059-2-0-16.

Pritchett and Castella have been productive in the traditional club wheat growing region and Pritchett maintained grain yields as well as many soft white wheat cultivars, even under the severe drought conditions of 2021 (Tables 1 and 2). There is still a great need for new club wheat cultivars with the snow mold resistance and emergence of Bruehl, combined with the tolerance to low Falling Numbers that is more typical of ARS Crescent.

New entries with better resistance to snow-mold, ARSX12015-68CBW and WA8317, which also has two-gene IMI resistance, and ARS12097-8D were entered in the WA Cereal Variety trials in the dry zone in 2020 and 2021. Unfortunately, although they did well in 2020, the three lines were not better than existing cultivars for grain yield and suffered more than those cultivars in the 2021 drought (Tables 1 and 2). Therefore, they were not advanced. In the high rainfall zone, ARSX09500-17CBW performed well at Mayview and Walla Walla in 2021, likely due to relatively early maturity.

In 2022, the breeding lines, ARS12097-12C (X010679 1C/IL06-14262), ARS13659-4C (Bruehl/(J010049/Brundage 96/Mohler)-2), and ARS141114-64C (Xerpha/X06132-45C) were entered into the WA Cereal Variety Testing dry trials. All had previously been selected have some tolerance to snow mold, excellent club end use quality, and were competitive in the very dry year of 2021. In the high rainfall trials, ARSX09500-17CBW (ARSC96059 2/VA03W412//ARSC96059-2-0-17) was repeated and ARS14DH1014-C (ARS-Amber/X010301-4-2C) with earlier maturity, excellent standability, excellent club wheat quality and resistance to stripe rust was entered for 2022.

Each year of the project, we made over 150 crosses to develop new club wheat populations. We evaluated mini bulk breeding and speed breeding techniques in the greenhouse and discovered that we can save about 20 days off of normal winter wheat generations using these techniques which allows us to advance material through the greenhouse faster and serves as a cost-effective alternative to doubled haploids. Therefore, populations are being advanced in the WSU plant growth facility, and selected for height and club wheat head type prior to planting in the field at F4 headrows. Several populations were developed to introgress two-gene IMI resistant into club wheat. Since the soft white wheat cultivars ‘Curiosity’ and ‘Mela’ were used as resistance donors, these crosses will also be useful to incorporate better snow mold resistance. With our collaborators, we evaluated nurseries at 14 locations in Washington, Idaho and Oregon in all years of the project (Table 3). Since 2020, genotype data is generated for all lines in yield trails in the club wheat breeding program. These data are used for marker assisted selection, for cross prediction and to generate genomic selection models.

In 2020 we evaluated all of plots in our yield trials in Lind and Pullman for resistance to low falling number using spike wetting tests. We discovered that, although ARS Crescent performs well for falling number in grower fields as compared to Bruehl, it was rated as susceptible to sprouting in spike wetting tests conducted at the WSU Plant Growth Facility. We suspect that the resistance in ARS Crescent is enough to maintain falling number in grower fields but not enough to sustain resistance in under the pressure of the spike wetting test. While we could select for greater dormancy using the spike wetting test alone, we are concerned that this increased dormancy would negatively impact fall emergence in the dry locations. There are a few winter wheat lines such as Otto soft white winter wheat, that have good emergence and the ability to maintain acceptable falling numbers in most environments. Therefore, we made several crosses between Otto and the club wheats to select for a moderate degree of tolerance to falling number and good emergence. We are evaluating molecular markers for association with falling number tolerance in our breeding program.

Pritchett was rated as resistant to soil borne mosaic virus over multiple years of testing by Dr. C. Hagerty of OSU. This resistance was originally present in Bruehl, and is associated with the SBMV-1 and SBMV-2 molecular markers indicating that we can select for resistance using marker assisted selection. Although soil borne mosaic virus has not emerged as a great threat to wheat production in the PNW, it is good to know that we have resistance present in adapted germplasm.

Each year we evaluate over 2500 breeding lines from breeding programs throughout the U.S. for resistance to stripe rust. This collaborative project has enabled us to made crosses to several good sources of Hessian fly and wheat barley dwarf virus resistance which are are being advanced for selection. In addition, several USDA-ARS developed cultivars possess resistance to local races of Hessian Fly, as tested at the Univ. of Idaho. These include ARS Selbu, Castella, Cameo and the breeding line ARSX09500-17CBW.

We were unable to visit with our collaborators of the Japanese Flour Miller’s Association in person in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic but we were able to meet in virtual conferences. From that interaction, we started to investigate additional methods to measure cake quality including image analysis and texture classification. These trials are ongoing. Released club wheat cultivars continue to be listed as desirable or most desirable in the ‘Preferred Varieties Brochure sponsored by the Washington, Oregon and Idaho Wheat commissions and the USDAARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory.

Evaluation and Selection for Cold Tolerance in Wheat (pdf)
Executive Summary: In 2021, we rated over 600 wheat breeding lines and cultivars from public breeding and variety testing programs for survival. In 2020, and despite the slowdown due to the pandemic, we rated 924 breeding lines and cultivars from public winter wheat breeding and variety testing programs for survival. This compared well with 2019 when we tested 936 lines. Breeders used this information for selection of new experimental lines. We have evaluated the Washington Extension Winter Wheat Trials every year since 2001. The survival results for the top varieties grown according to the Washington Grain Commission Variety Survey are below (page 2). We are still analyzing data for the 2021 crop year. We observed association between our testing results and the winter injury that occurred in WA in April of 2020 and in survival notes from the Cereal Variety trials that have been collected between 2018-2020. Therefore, we are confident that our evaluation of freezing tolerance using programable freeze chambers at the WSU Plant Growth Facility represents real world winter survival due to cold injury.

We conducted a genome-wide association study of wheat from the WSU winter wheat and ARS winter wheat programs and a doubled haploid population of Cara/Xerpha. We also did a QTL analysis in a population involving the very cold tolerant Canadian winter wheat Norstar, in collaboration with Dr. Debbie Laudencia of USDA-ARS in Albany CA, Dr. Brian Fowler (retired) of Univ. of Saskatchewan. We previously identified allelic variation at the genes for vernalization response (VRN) and for the genes controlling general cold tolerance response (CBF) genes on the group 5 chromosomes. These genes impact vernalization requirement and cold tolerance. We have now identified QTL for cold tolerance on the multiple chromosomes including 1A, 1B, 1D, 2A, 2B, 2D, 3B, 3D, 4A, 4B, 5A, 5B, 6B, 7A, and 7B. Some of these genes are major and we can use marker assisted selection to fix them in our breeding lines. Genomic selection models will be most useful to improve freezing tolerance in PNW wheat. We also know that resistance to soil borne diseases like eyespot, fusarium crown rot and snow mold is critical for winter survival in wheat.

Even though we have learned a lot about control of cold tolerance from the QTL associated with differences in the DNA code of specific genes controlling growth and flowering, we know that flowering and cold tolerance are influenced by epigenetic responses. Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression that are caused by exposure to different environments rather than changes due to differences in the DNA code. Previously, Dr. Dan Skinner started with a single seed of the winter wheat ‘Norstar’, grew it using exposure to cold to induce flowering and harvested the seed from that plant. He then exposed several of the seeds to cold as usual for winter wheat and harvested those seeds. He called these “cold-induced flowering (CIF-Norstar)”. He also maintained some of the seeds at room temperature (no cold exposure) but he did expose then to longer daylengths (or longer photoperiod). Wheat is daylength sensitive and flowers in response to lengthening days. Initially, few tillers flowered on the plants that were not exposed to cold. After three generations, he was able to harvest a normal amount of grain from each plant. This version of Norstar was named photoperiod induced flowering (PIF Norstar). We hypothesized that these differences in the control of flowering were due to different gene expression, rather than to changes in the DNA code itself. We want to know which genes are affected by these differences in epigenetic expression. Our rationale is that, even if we incorporate all the DNA allelic variation (differences in DNA code) that is associated with cold tolerance in wheat; we may still alter the cold tolerance of a cultivar based on how we treat the seed during the breeding process.

We used a technique called RNA-seq to analyze gene expression data for epigenetic effects of exposure to cold in the CIF and PIF Norstar lines. We exposed 6-week-old plants of the two different Norstar lines to freezing temperature from 0-24 hours. Then we extracted RNA from each type of Norstar at each time period and analyzed it for differences in gene expression between the CIF-Norstar and PIF-Norstar lines. A large percentage of genes were expressed differently between the two Norstar lines at all time points (Fig. 1 – in pdf). In addition, these genes were both up-regulated and down regulated in the CIF-Norstar vs. the PIF Norstar (Fig. 2 – in pdf).

Thirty of these genes, located on different chromosomes are of particular interest. They are (Table 1). Several genes interact with genes known to be involved in cold tolerance, copper metabolism in plants, and membrane structure. We are investigating these results to better understand the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that control cold tolerance in winter wheat.

Breeder Quality Trials (pdf)
Executive Summary: A new program commenced in FY 2019/20 to ‘pre-screen’ experimental breeding lines before they are entered into the WSU Wheat Variety Trials. This pre-screening was aimed at increasing the likelihood that newly released soft white wheat varieties meet industry standards before gaining substantial acreage and influencing the overall quality of the grain being exported from the Inland PNW. Quality data generated from this trial in 2020 and 2021 has been analyzed using the standard t-Score and the results (and interpretation) returned to the breeder. The data can also be included in the analysis used for the Preferred Variety brochure. The check variety has been drawn from the adjoining Variety Testing nursery.

Quality of Varieties and Pre-Release Lines Genotype & Environment – G&E Study (pdf)
Executive Summary: The 2021 harvest sample analysis is roughly half done; the project is on-going. As in previous years, all quality data were/will be analyzed using the t-Score statistic. The quality t-Scores for each soft white winter, club, soft white spring and club, hard red winter, hard red spring, and hard white winter and spring varieties are summarized using ‘Grain’, ‘Milling’, ‘End-Product’, and ‘Overall’ Scores. Varieties in each market class/sub-class are then ranked by the Overall Score. All varieties and advanced breeding lines with three or more years of data are included in the final listing.

Using these results and analyses, the WWQL works closely with the WGC to develop the, “Preferred WHEAT VARIETIES for Washington based on end-use quality” each year with annual updates. Completion of the variety rankings in February represents the first significant accomplishment each year. We coordinate variety classification with Oregon and Idaho cereal chemists.

Supplemental Support for Assessing the Quality of Washington Breeding Samples (pdf)
Executive Summary: This WGC support provides for about 3 months of additional technician time. The additional work is devoted to evaluating breeder samples for quality from early October through mid-January. During this period, spring wheat samples are given priority over winter wheat samples. The aim is to coordinate with the WSU Wheat Quality Program, and complete as many analyses as possible before spring wheat planting decisions are made in early February. In this way, the spring wheat program is made more efficient because inferior quality lines are not planted and grown. The standing goal for WSU winter wheat breeding lines is to complete as many as possible before June 1. Milling and baking evaluations of the 2020-Crop were completed and 2021-Crop testing is well under way at the Western Wheat Quality Lab.

Extension Education for Wheat & Barley Grower (pdf)
Executive Summary: New resources were added to the Wheat and Small Grains website in 2021. We also released our first phone app: WSU Variety Selection. The new app has been downloaded more than 200 times. The results from the 2021 cereal variety testing program were added to the website, the Variety Selection Tool, and the phone app. The 2021 WSU Weed Control Report was posted as were two new Weed ID quizzes. The Insecticide Mode of Action Tool was added in 2021 along with the Insect ID and Damage Quiz. Twenty-five new episodes of the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast were posted in 2021, a new episode every other week. There were also 26 new Timely Topics posted. The 2021 Wheat Academy was cancelled because of mask mandates necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vacant positions on the Extension Dryland Cropping Systems Team remained a problem in 2021. The Team will enter 2022 three county positions down from where it was in 2018, although searches for the Columbia County and Walla Walla County positions will occur in 2022.

Evaluation of Barley Varieties (pdf)
Executive Summary: The primary goal of the WSU Extension Cereal Variety Testing Program is to provide growers, the agribusiness industry, university researchers, and other interested clientele with comprehensive, objective, and independent information on the adaptation and performance of spring barley cultivars across the intermediate and high rainfall dryland production regions of eastern Washington where barley is grown.

The VTP planted 12 spring barley variety trials in each of the past three years. While all 12 were harvested each year, data from one, two and five trials were not published in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively, due to high variation in the data within the trials. All data is posted on our website and email notifications were sent out via the ‘prelimdata’ list serve when data was available. In the past year, the number of members on this list has increased 67% to 355. We continue to publish our final technical report each year which can be found on our website ( and is posted in December. The variety selection tool has continually been updated each year and in spring of 2021 a new mobile app was developed to provide a user-friendly experience on their phone and even off-line access once the app is installed.

Due to COVID-19, in-person field days were cancelled in 2020. In response, the VTP led the effort to organize, record and post virtual field days as our primary Extension outreach that year. A total of four field day playlists were created for each precipitation zone and posted on the WSU CAHNRS YouTube Channel. Three of these clips covered the spring barley variety trials at Reardan, Dayton and Pullman and received a total of 86 views combined. In 2021, we held in-person field days at eight sites (200 attendance) with spring barley variety trials. We continued the virtual field days as well producing two barley variety trial video clips, one each at Dayton and Farmington, which received 26 and 17 views, respectively.

Evaluation of Wheat Varieties (pdf)
Executive Summary: The primary goal of the WSU Extension Cereal Variety Testing Program is to provide growers, the agribusiness industry, university researchers, and other interested clientele with comprehensive, objective, and independent information on the adaptation and performance of winter and spring wheat cultivars across the climatic regions of eastern Washington where wheat is grown.

The Variety Testing Program (VTP) has experienced much change during the course of this three year funding cycle. Aaron Esser handed over the program to me in August of 2019 and a new lead technician was hired on in spring of 2020. We have acquired two new plot tractors equipped with GPS and also upgraded to a new 30’ boom sprayer that tripled the tank capacity for more efficient spraying and planting. With additional funds from the WGC the program also acquired a new NIR protein analyzer in 2021 that improves speed of processing samples.

The turnaround time for data getting posted following harvest has improved markedly, particularly with winter wheat, so that yield data is generally available within 48 hours of harvest. This data is posted on our website and an email notification is sent out via the ‘prelimdata’ list serve. In the past year, the number of members on this list has increased 67% to 355. We continue to publish our final technical report each year which can be found on our website ( and is posted in December. The variety selection tool has continually been updated each year and in spring of 2021 a new mobile app was developed to provide a user-friendly experience on their phone and even off-line access once the app is installed. We began compiling all ratings for each wheat class into a single table in 2020, which is easily accessible on the yield data webpage as individual tables (labelled as = ‘Variety Characteristics’ tables) and is also included in the final report. These are updated annually. Environmental conditions in 2021 led to ideal conditions for both excellent snow mold and emergence ratings and those have since been updated and are available in the technical report and through the variety selection tool.

Due to COVID-19, in-person field days were cancelled in 2020. In response, the VTP led the effort to organize, record and post virtual field days as our primary Extension outreach that year. A total of four field day playlists were created for each precipitation zone with a total of 47 separate video clips/topics uploaded on to the WSU CAHNRS YouTube Channel. To date, these recordings have garnered 1,811 views. In 2021, we held 16 in-person field days with 334 in total attendance. We continued the virtual field days as well producing four field day playlists which have received 169 views.

In response to the growing practice of planting hard red spring wheat in the fall in the basin, the VTP began implementing a fall-planted HRS trial in fall 2020 for our two irrigated sites. In fall 2021, we also added a dryland site as well at Dayton due to grower interest in the area. To compliment the yield data, seed of these entries were given to Dr. Kim Campbell’s program to screen for cold hardiness. Previously, spring varieties were not screened for this trait. We also plan to work with Dr. Mike Pumphrey’s group to screen winter wheat entries for aluminum tolerance alongside his spring wheat aluminum screening nursery. In 2020, we worked with Dr. Pumphrey and University of Idaho to begin screening winter wheat varieties for Hessian fly resistance, which was not previously done.

Fusarium Crown Rot on Wheat Prebreeding & Development of Tools for Genetic Disease Management (pdf)
Executive Summary: 

  • As part of the PhD work of Nikayla Strauss, greenhouse methods were further modified and optimized for winter wheat, building on the work of Yvonne Thompson with spring wheat. This included inoculation at the start of vernalization and increasing temperature and water stress at the end of the experiment.
  • A new method of assessing Fusarium crown rot was tested. Instead of a 1-9 rating, the number of discolored internodes was counted. The results were highly correlated with the more time-consuming 1-9 rating. A power analysis was conducted on the data and showed that fewer replicates are required with the node rating system, and that a minimum of 8 replicates are needed. The method separated the resistant check (2-49) from the susceptible check (Soft Svevo). This method should be more reproducible and enable quicker screening of material.
  • A panel of winter wheat lines were assessed with the above method and identified Norwest Tandem with a high degree of resistance or tolerance.
  • The Western Regional Winter Wheat Nursery was screened, and identified WA 8315, WA8321 and WA 8330 with a higher level of tolerance.
  • Another panel of spring wheat lines was tested in the greenhouse, but the level of disease
    was not high enough for reliable ratings.

Breeding Improved Spring Varieties for the PNW (pdf)
Executive Summary: The WSU spring wheat breeding program’s elite material and recently released varieties continue to be the top performers in statewide variety trials and for growers. Two varieties were approved for release/Foundation seed increase in 2021. Hale hard red spring wheat is a superior, broadly adapted replacement for dryland spring wheat acres. Roger spring club is early and high yielding and will be the first in its class with Hessian fly resistance. A new 2-gene Clearfield spring club wheat released in 2020, Hedge Cl+, had Foundation seed produced in 2021. Hard red spring Net Cl+ was grown on ~9,000 acres during its first year available in 2021 and seed stocks have been further multiplied. Each variety has very good to excellent end-use quality, which is a primary goal of our program to help maintain and increase the value of Washington wheat.

WSU soft white spring wheat varieties accounted for 95% of certified soft white spring wheat production acres in Washington in 2021. Our widely available soft white spring wheat varieties, Ryan, Seahawk, Tekoa, and Melba, have broad adaptation, superior all-around disease, grain and agronomic traits, most desirable end-use quality, and top yield performance. They have been widely adopted by seed dealers in the PNW and Ryan was by far the leading variety in the state with over 220,000 acres planted in 2021. Glee, Chet, and Alum are leading dryland hard red spring wheat varieties, and Net CL+ has been rapidly adopted. WSU spring wheat varieties collectively were planted on 80% of the certified spring wheat production acres in Washington in 2021. The consistency, broad adaptation, disease and pest resistances, sound grain traits, most desirable end-use quality, good falling numbers, and overall performance of these varieties reflects the outputs of comprehensive wheat breeding and genetics research effort supported primarily through funding from this project. In fact, 64% of all spring wheat acres in 2021 were planted to varieties developed/released through our program over the past 6-7 years.

Greenhouse & Laboratory Efforts for Spring Wheat Varieties Development (pdf)
Executive Summary: Spring wheat varieties with high yields, good grain traits, complex stripe rust resistance, Hessian fly resistance, aluminum tolerance, superior end-use quality, and broad adaptation benefit Washington wheat producers by adding millions of dollars to annual returns. This project supports core efforts of the WSU Spring Wheat Breeding program by providing funding to make crosses and develop breeding populations in the greenhouse, staff support for management and selection of breeding materials in the field and greenhouse, and supports/enables the most effective end-use quality selection procedures for development of superior Washington spring wheat varieties. In addition to routine early-generation grain quality selection carried out through this project, we apply DNA marker technology to elite breeding materials, and conduct research projects and germplasm development of direct relevance to our breeding efforts. This project also supports our two-gene Clearfield and AXigen breeding efforts, Fusarium head blight resistance gene introgression, Hessian fly resistance gene introgression, and expanded irrigated hard red spring wheat breeding efforts. Our progress in each of these areas is consistent, and these outputs continue to shape our overall breeding efforts and directly contribute to variety release and on-farm profitability.

End-Use Quality Assessment of WSU Wheat Breeding Lines (pdf)
Executive Summary: WSU spring and winter wheat variety development programs heavily emphasize selection for superior end-use quality. Quality evaluation of WSU breeding lines has been ongoing for over 50 years. Effective quality testing is essential for the recent release of new varieties from all market classes that are at or near the top of end-use quality rankings. This project supports a scientist to conduct thousands of quality tests per year for the WSU wheat breeding programs in conjunction with USDA-ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory efforts.

The majority of wheat from the PNW is exported to overseas markets. To maintain current markets and penetrate new markets, PNW wheat must possess quality characteristics that make it superior for use in both domestic and overseas markets. Therefore, before it is released, a new variety must be tested to determine if it is suitable for use in specific end use products. In addition, increased competition from traditional and non-traditional export countries necessitates enhancing the end-use quality of our wheat. The loss of overseas markets would continue to cause a reduction in the demand and therefore the price of wheat, resulting in losses to Washington farmers. Washington wheat growers, as well as grain buyers and exporters, benefit from the availability of wheat varieties that require less inputs and possess superior, consistent end-use quality.

Evaluation of WSU Wheat Breeding Lines for Management of Hessian Fly & Development of DNA Markers for Resistance Breeding (pdf)
Executive Summary: Hessian fly (HF) infestations continue to cause significant annual yield losses in spring wheat production areas of Washington and neighboring regions of Oregon and Idaho. Hessian fly is in many ways a silent problem. Moderate infestations are not visually striking, and their occurrence is somewhat variable over space and time. Factors such as weather patterns, crop rotation, variety selection, and tillage or conservation practices can impact HF pressure. Infestation may also be a significant barrier to increased conservation tillage practices in Washington. Advanced breeding lines, new sources of resistance genes H13, H26, and two unknown resistance sources, along with winter wheat varieties were screened for Hessian fly resistance in 2021. Backcross populations were developed with four new sources of resistance, and progeny advanced to select homozygous resistant lines. Winter wheat populations and varieties were screened to introgress HF resistance into winter wheat. This project supported the screening of all new entries in WSU Variety Testing Program spring wheat trials and winter wheat variety trials. NEW DNA markers that allow diagnostic tracking of the previously unknown spring wheat resistance source that is in most spring wheat varieties were validated and fully implemented in 2021.

A Genetic Arsenal for Drought Tolerance, Getting to the Root of the Problem (pdf)
Executive Summary: Dryland farms in eastern Washington experience yield losses due to drought stress and disease pressure from soil-borne pathogens and 2021 was no exception. Improving wheat root structure can help to resist such stresses by increasing access to water as well as selecting for traits that confer tolerance to belowground stresses. Changes in tillage practices have changed the soil structure and pathogen load, altering root-microbiome interactions. Thus, there is an urgent need for understanding and improving both the root system and structure to improve stress tolerance. We found cooler canopy temperatures were associated with better yield under drought and healthier roots suggesting that breeding for more efficient root systems can improve the performance of Washington wheat under drought. Lignin content and accumulation has been linked with different stress tolerances and responses in crop plants because it lends rigidity to plant cell walls and increases in response to drought, heavy metals, salinity, and pathogen attack. Therefore, managing overall lignin content is a key step for generating wheat lines with improved stress tolerance. We have been working to understand how lignin content and deposition in winter wheat roots contributes to stress tolerance. To this end, we study a landrace from Iran called AUS28451 and the winter wheat variety Louise, which have different lignin contents in their root systems. We found that both roots and shoots of AUS contain less S lignin than G lignin, whereas Louise has higher amounts of S lignin. S-lignin is correlated with the ability to breakdown biomass (i.e. more S lignin means plant biomass breaks down more easily). We also performed in silico characterization of the CAD and COMT gene families that help biosynthesize lignin. We have identified root-specific CAD and COMT genes and are working to understand how they are regulated in response to stress. In addition, we are running qRT-PCR experiments to determine how lignin genes are expressed in roots in response to different environmental cues and in different varieties. We have also identified cad and commutants in the Kronos background to examine loss of function phenotypes and contributions of the subgenome copies to root architecture and stress responses.

Breeding Wheat Varieties with Efficient Control of ROS Production (pdf)
Executive Summary: This project aims to advance toolbox for breeding drought and heat tolerant wheat varieties. Our approach is based on the fact that harsh environmental conductions, including heat and drought, increase production of free radicals also known as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). ROS diminish the yield by damaging cells inside plant body. Plants alleviate the ROS damages using so called “scavenging” mechanisms. Varieties with higher scavenging activity would yield better in hot and dry climates. We want to identify genetic markers with more efficient ROS scavenging and introduce these markers into breeding programs. Previously, our laboratory developed a technique for measuring ROS scavenging under the greenhouse condition.

In Year 1 (growth season 2019) the suitability of our technique for analysis of material in the field was tested using 14 spring wheat varieties in Lind, Moses Lake, and Spillman farms. We found that our technique detected variability of the ROS scavenging in the field-grown material. One of the tested varieties, Kelse, was amongst varieties with more efficient ROS scavenging.

In Year 2 we collaborated with Dr Pumphrey to phenotype ROS scavenging in 180 RILs of the biparental population Kelse x Scarlet in Lind. This RIL population has been genotyped. It means we can use this material to identify genetic markers of efficient ROS scavenging. The material was collected on May 29 when the maximum day temperature reached 88°F. Despite delays caused by COVID-19 pandemics, we completed the measurements. The results demonstrate significant variability of ROS scavenging activity in the population.

In Year 3 in collaboration with Dr. Pumphrey we repeated phenotyping of 180 RILs of the biparental population Kelse x Scarlet in Lind and in Othello. Two replicates were planted at each location. The leaf material in Lind was collected on July 1, 2021 when the air temperature was 93°F. Due to the lack of precipitation in April and May of 2021 the soil was very dry and all plants were very stressed: leaves were curling and plants were yellowing. The Othello site was affected to the dust storm that bowed away soil with the fertilized. As a consequence, the amount of fertilizer was not even across the field and plants were of different size and developmental stage. This variability in material was not suitable for measuring peroxisomes. In this way we have lost two replicates out of four. Two replicates measured in Lind were not sufficient to get statistically significant data. Another activity in Year 3 was measured activity of ROS scavenging enzymes catalase, ascorbate peroxidase and guaiacol peroxidase in Kelse and Scarlet in response to heat and drought stress in the greenhouse conditions. This experiment demonstrated that of three enzymes, only activity of guaiacol peroxidase increased in Kelse under stress conditions, whereas activity of other enzymes was not affected. No differences in the enzyme activity were detected in Scarlet. This outcome is consistent with the hypothesis that ROS scavenging system is more activity in Kelse, but the fact that activity of only one enzyme was increased suggests these three peroxidases is not the key ROS scavenging mechanisms in these varieties.

Intelligent Prediction & Association Tool to Facilitate Wheat Breeding (pdf)
Executive Summary: We updated one software package (GAPIT), released one new software package (MMAP), and published two articles partially under the support of this project in this fiscal year. The GAPIT software package updated for new functions for both GWAS (Genome Wide Association Study) and GS (Genomic Selection) ( GAPIT has received over 1500 citations, including the breeders at WSU and USDA-ARS. The manuscript of update GAPIT (version 3) was published by Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics. MMAP makes it easy for breeders to conduct molecular breeding ( Users can simply upload genotype and genotype data and download breeding values when the computation is complete on the platform. The MMAP was published by Bioinformatics.

2020-2021 Research Report

Plant Protection

Variety Selection & Testing

View the 2020-2021 WSU Wheat & Barley Research Reports to the Washington Grain Commission Full Report (pdf)

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