2023 Spring Wheat Variety Performance with Dr. Clark Neely

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Variety Selection and Testing
2023 variety trial data

Contact information: Dr. Clark Neely, clark.neely@wsu.edu

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Episode transcription:


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 from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production.

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My guest today is Dr. Clark Neely. Clark is an extension agronomist and the lead for the WSU Extension Cereal Variety Testing Program based in Pullman, Washington, with the Crop and Soil Sciences Department. He received degrees from Penn State, University of Idaho, and Texas A&M University. He worked for six years at Texas A&M University as a statewide small grains and cool season oilseed extension specialist, before coming to WSU in 2019. His research program is built around the variety testing program, with previous and current projects looking at the impact that wheat varieties have on soil microbial recruitment in the rhizosphere, wheat varietal impacts on subsequent canola production, and differences in early season emergence and vigor among winter wheat varieties. Clark also teaches the advanced cropping systems course for the department.

Hello, Clark.

Dr. Clark Neely: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So, your wheat and barley variety testing program received just over $218,000 from the Washington Grain Commission in the current fiscal year. What do these funds allow you to do that just wouldn’t be possible without the additional support?

Dr. Clark Neely: Pretty much everything, Drew. So, if we did not get funding from the Grain Commission, these trials, in all likelihood, we wouldn’t be doing nearly as many of them as we are. It also allows us to–we don’t have to impose a fee on companies, so that potentially increases the number of varieties that we’re testing and breeding lines. In fact, the program that I ran at Texas A&M, that was fee based, and a lot of other programs are fee based, so Washington State is kind of unique in that sense.

Drew Lyon: And because of that, you feel like you get more varieties submitted from not just WSU but from other wheat breeders that you wouldn’t get if you charged?

Dr. Clark Neely: Correct.

Drew Lyon: What kind of charge would you make at A&M?

Dr. Clark Neely: Well, it’s been years since I did that.

Drew Lyon: Lots of inflation, too.

Dr. Clark Neely: Honestly, I can’t remember.

Drew Lyon: Okay. But it’s significant enough that people would wonder how many they should put in?

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, this really allows you to do a wider testing of varieties, better comparisons.

Okay. So, let’s talk about spring wheat here today. How did the Washington spring wheat crop turn out in 2023?

Dr. Clark Neely: Not too bad. Not as good as what we saw last year. You know, 2022 was a pretty good year on the whole. There were still a few spots that were on the dry side. But compared to last year, yields are down probably 20 to 30%. But like I said, last year was a good year. So, if you look at like the four-year average, I would say it was pretty close to the mean of most of the trials.

There were a few bright spots. The ones that stuck out to me: Almira, Fairfield, [and] Bickelton all beat their long-term averages pretty substantially. That really wasn’t surprising. If you paid attention to the radar last spring and summer, there were a number of thunderstorms that went through Almira, Creston, [and] Wilbur areas, so that made sense that they were trending above average up there.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, I would have–you know, looking at the year, I thought spring wheat did a lot better than I would have guessed because we really didn’t, at least outside of the area you just mentioned, we didn’t get a lot of that late spring or early summer rainfall, so the crop was really quite dependent on stored soil water to finish its out. And it did better than I would have put money on.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah, actually at our Horse Heaven site, the spring wheats were within a bushel or two of the winter wheat trial, which was a factor of the winter wheat getting a late start because it was so dry last fall.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Dr. Clark Neely: So that was interesting, you don’t often see the spring and the winter yield the same.

Drew Lyon: No, you don’t.

So, were there any other major issues that affected certain trials? You mentioned the ones out west that were on the positive side. What about further east?

Dr. Clark Neely: Sure. Yeah, there were a couple. The main one that sticks out to me was Farmington. It kind of got beat up this year. You know, we were dodging rainstorms this spring to try to get it in on time, and we tried planting it once and it was marginally too wet. And then we hit like a really wet spot in the field and we just got really bad stands, so we did replant Farmington, but it went in, I think, May 11th, so it was planted late to start with and then it’s always one of our last ones that we harvest and we got some rainstorms there around harvest time. So, it got delayed harvest along with Palouse. So, if you look at the test weights, they were pretty low on both those trials and the yield potential was down on Farmington as well.

Those are those are the main ones that had big issues that I recall on the spring side or at least for spring trials. I did want to mention on the fall planted hard red spring trials that we do, we had kind of a unique situation this year where we planted on time both those trials at Moses Lake and Pasco were planted–sorry, Othello this year–they were planted like October 25th, 27th, which is usually what we’re targeting, but it went from basically summer to winter in about two days. And we planted, you know, probably within a day or two of that happening. And so those plots never got a chance to emerge. They didn’t come up ‘til late February, early March, and we had issues with stand establishment. There was definitely a reduction in emergence.

Interestingly, the winter trials got planted at the exact same time that the fall planted spring trials did, and the winter wheat looked much better on a whole. So, that was interesting to see the winter wheat looking better than the spring wheat even though they were planted at the same time.

In fact, we actually never did plant Dayton. We’ve tried to plant a fall planted spring trial there, but it just never dried out enough once it got colder–it never thawed out rather. So yeah, those are some of the things that stick out to me.

Drew Lyon: Any thoughts on why the fall planted winter wheat looked better than the fall planted spring wheat?

Dr. Clark Neely: I don’t know for sure. It may have something to do with the speed at which it emerged. Maybe the winter wheat grows a little faster than the spring wheat, so maybe it popped up faster, which allowed it to avoid some of the crusting issues.

I will say it was not unique just to our trial. There were a lot of growers that were dealing with that out in the basin. In fact, I remember driving around there probably about March and seeing a lot of tractors in the field, either completely replanting or spot planting in fields.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Interesting. Because like you say, if they’re planted at the same time, you’d expect the emergence to be similar.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah. 

Drew Lyon: Okay. Alright. That’s something to keep an eye on for a while.

So, what are some of the newest spring wheat variety releases? And how did they perform this past year?

Dr. Clark Neely: Sure. I’ve got a few here to touch on. The first one I wanted to mention is the newest release from WSU. It’s called Butch CL+, previously in the trial was a WA8354 CL+. So, Mike Pumphrey’s spring wheat program named that in 2023. This one’s going to be the first WSU two-gene Clearfield soft white spring release. Not to be confused with Hedge CL+, which was released a couple of years ago, which is a spring club with two-gene Clearfield trait.

Butch didn’t do quite as well in 2023 as it has in the past, as an experimental. It still was probably close to the trial average. But most importantly, you know, this variety is going to be looking to replace the other Clearfield soft white springs. And so those currently are WB6211 CLP and AP Mondovi CL2. So, if you make the comparison with those two, it yields about 3 to 6 bushels better pretty consistently across almost all of our rainfall zones, maybe not so much in the lowest rainfall zone. But in addition to the higher yield, it also has 1 to 2 lb better test weight and also lower protein. So, it seems like it’s poised to take a number of acres away from those two moving forward, I would think.

The next one I wanted to mention is Roger. This is a WSU variety that was named in 2022. Previously it was WA8325. This is the first spring club wheat release from WSU that has Hessian fly resistance, which was a major–I guess you call a flaw–but something that was lacking in any other spring club up to this point.

So, if you compare that to the other club wheats, Roger’s been averaging 2 to 6 bushels better than Melba, which is currently the highest yielding spring club wheat, at least in the highest rainfall zones. And it definitely has better test weight and lower protein compared to Melba. Like I said, if you get in the lower precip zones, it’s probably similar to Melba for in the 12- to 16- inch zone. And once you get below 12 inches, Melba probably still has a couple bushel advantage over it. I think the fact that it has Hessian fly resistance is kind of an insurance for a lot of growers, so even if it’s the same yielding as Melba, you have a little insurance there if you have heavy Hessian fly pressure that year.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And that has been an issue in recent years. It seems to be getting more prevalent, isn’t it?

Dr. Clark Neely: Certainly, yeah.

And Mike Pumphrey, the [WSU] spring wheat breeder, he doesn’t really release anything anymore that doesn’t have Hessian fly resistance.

A couple other things to mention. There’s an advanced WSU line WA8351 that I wanted to point out. This one is, in all likelihood, going to be released in 2024–or named in 2024. If you look at the yield tables that I put out on the variety testing website, this one really stands out. It’s numerically number one in 2023 and also on the two-year average, and more often than not is statistically better than any other released variety at the moment. So fabulous yield potential, really consistent, so it’s broadly adapted. Test weight is above the trial average in every zone and it’s consistently better by 1 to 1.5 lbs per bushel over Ryan, which is currently our number one planted soft white spring wheat. And it also threshes easier than Ryan, which is really the only complaint I ever really hear about Ryan is it tends to thresh a little hard. So, it has that going for it, and it has a pretty good package, in addition. It’s got good stripe rust, good Hessian fly, and good aluminum tolerance.

Drew Lyon: Sounds like a winner.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes. Yeah. If growers or seed dealers are interested, it’s pedigree came from a cross between Tekoa and an experimental line, and that experimental line had Louise and Alpowa in its pedigree. If you’re interested about availability, like I said, final approval is still pending, but at this point in time, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be approved.

Foundation seed would be available this coming spring and then certified seed would probably be available the following year.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Something to watch.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes.

Drew Lyon: So, did you see any interesting trends in spring wheat variety performance this year? Anything kind of out of the ordinary?

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes. So, I guess the first thing that sticks out, in addition to some of the varieties I just mentioned, some of the ones that you typically expect that have done well like Ryan and Seahawk did not do as well in 2023. Ryan still did pretty well in like our 16- to 20-inch zone. I think it’s still landed in the top group, but in most the other zones it was close to average, so it didn’t do horrible but usually you see it at the top of the trial and it was closer to average. And in Seahawk, really you typically–or at least I typically–see Seahawk yielding right there with Ryan in our high rainfall zones, and this year it was towards the bottom of the trial more often than not.

We know Seahawk tends to get a late start. It’s kind of slow out of the gate–most growers know that about it. And I don’t know for whatever reason, that must have set it back too far. Usually it can catch up, but that was not the case this year.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And any idea why Ryan, maybe, didn’t perform its usual?

Dr. Clark Neely: I don’t know.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Just one of those odd years.

Dr. Clark Neely: That’s why we test it.

Drew Lyon: Yeah. And that’s why you test over multiple years too, right?

Dr. Clark Neely: Right.

Drew Lyon: In any given year anything can be a winner.

Dr. Clark Neely: Right.

Drew Lyon: Almost anything.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah. In addition, other things that kind of were unique–I wanted to point out too, because we had the difficulty with the emergence in our fall planted spring trials in the irrigated sites, it was kind of a unique opportunity to take emergence ratings. We actually don’t really have any emergence ratings on spring wheats–I occasionally get that question–so it’s kind of a unique opportunity there.

And there were some clear differences in the spring wheat varieties. AP Venom, which is currently one of the top planted fall planted spring varieties, had a clear advantage over SY Gunsight, which is the other. Those typically are our two highest yielding hard red springs under fall planted situations. So, there’s a big difference between those with Venom having an advantage over Gunsight for emergence.

We have a number of WestBred varieties, WB9636 and WB9662. They had some of the best emergence ratings while WB9668, which is a pretty popular hard red spring variety, received some of the lowest ratings, so there were some pretty good differences there.

Drew Lyon: Okay, will those numbers show up anywhere?

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes, I’m still working on updating all of the ratings for the current year. I’m in the process.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So those will be incorporated.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes, I would like to include that in the–we put out a wheat variety characteristics PDF that’s on the variety testing website. It’s found at the top of the trial page for each year and then also I try to incorporate that into the selection tool.

Drew Lyon: Okay, very good. So, have there been any recent changes made to the program?

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes. The first thing I wanted to point out was if you’re looking at the yield tables that I put out, traditionally, those tables will have a one-year, two-year, three-year, and five-year average. We’ve switched that now so the five-year is now just a four-year. Reason being is that’s kind of reflective of the environment we’re in now with more rapid turnover of varieties. It’s a real shame to have four years of data and then not use that fourth year data because things turn over so quickly. So, I wanted to point that out.

Also, if growers are interested in how we manage our trials, we’ve also tweaked our nitrogen rates, at least our calculations that we use, to put N rates out on our soft white spring trials. I was going through our 2022 data and looking at our protein levels and it was pretty obvious that we were consistently overperforming–we were having protein levels that were higher than desirable on our soft white spring trial. And in 2022 that was a high yielding year, which you don’t expect high protein. So that was kind of a red flag that maybe we should be backing off those rates.

So, we’ve done a better job of crediting any previous legumes in the trial, also crediting N mineralization from organic matter from our soil tests that we take at each site. And then also since spring wheat, the root system is not going to be as deep as with winter wheat, we have traditionally credited N all the way down to four feet, but we felt like maybe three feet would be more representative of what the spring wheat root system is actually exploring.

So those are some of the things that we changed this past year, and I’m pretty happy to report that I think we more or less hit the targets that we were shooting for. If you look at the proteins on average in 2023 across all the locations in our high rainfall zone, we came in at about 9.8.

You know, I’m shooting for 10 to 10.5 in that ballpark. And then in the 16- to 20- and 12- to 16-inch zones, we hit 10.8, which is a full percentage lower than what we saw the previous year. Our low rainfall zone, it’s still high–it usually comes in over 11%. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about that, most of the time those trials are getting planted into a field with hard red spring wheat and the growers already fertilized for that, so it’s not like we can cut back our rate because there’s already enough in the soil.

I was pretty happy that I felt like we made progress there, being more representative of what growers are doing.

And so, the last thing I was going to mention is I’m still looking for a lead technician, so I thought I would put a plug in there. If anybody is looking or anybody knows of somebody looking for a job, that will be something changing in the future. Hopefully we get a new tech.

Drew Lyon: Okay. What kinds of responsibilities will this person have?

Dr. Clark Neely: So, the biggest thing is just be helping, planting, maintaining, harvesting trials. So, there’s a fair amount of travel involved. You’d be working with my other lead tech, Jamie Conner. Yeah, that’s the main thing, but obviously there’s other things like equipment maintenance and running samples in the lab.

Drew Lyon: Okay, if you’re interested, reach out to Dr. Neely.

Clark, I really appreciate you coming in here and talking about the Spring Wheat Program–Variety Testing Program. It sounds like there’s some interesting things coming along that growers should take a look at. And it sounds like many programs, yours is constantly changing to meet the changing environment in which we find ourselves in agriculture these days.

Thanks for coming on.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah, thank you, Drew.

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 podcast app. If you have questions or topics you’d like to hear on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon — that’s lyon@wsu.edu — (drew.lyon@wsu.edu). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter [X] @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.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.