USDA-ARS Wheat Health, Genetics, and Quality Research
Western Wheat Quality Laboratory
WSU Small Grains Variety Selection & Testing
Preferred Wheat Varieties Lists
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas, 509-335-4062, 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 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. Alecia Kiszonas. Alecia is a USDA-ARS biologist and adjunct faculty in Crop and Soil Sciences and Food Science at WSU. Alecia has been a biologist focused on end-use quality since 2013. Her work focuses on evaluating wheat breeder samples and the variety testing samples for quality attributes important to our export customers. She also researches quality testing methods for high throughput evaluation of early generation wheat breeding samples.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Hi, Drew.
Drew Lyon: So, your program received just under $159,000 from the Washington Grain Commission in the current fiscal year. What do these funds allow you to do that would not be possible without the additional support?
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: So, the funds allow us to process more of the breeder samples, primarily from the three wheat breeders here on campus: Drs. Arron Carter, Mike Pumphrey, and Kim Campbell. So, we evaluate their breeding samples, especially early generation lines, and get that information to them in a timely manner so they can make selection decisions and then for their planting decisions.
Drew Lyon: Okay. And with this money, you’re able to do more samples than what you could do without the money?
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: More samples and in a faster timeframe. We receive, for example, Dr. Mike Pumphrey’s samples in maybe October, early November, and he needs the data by the end of January, so this funding is helpful for us to have additional technical support, during those really critical months where we have a very high volume of samples, to get that information back to him in time for him to make decisions about what’s going to the field for the next crop year.
Drew Lyon: So, with winter wheat, that information’s needed very quickly, probably more quickly than you can even do it. So, do you have a little more time with the winter wheat samples, or probably more samples but [also] more time.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: For the most part, yes. There are typically maybe 20 to 50 samples that Dr. Arron Carter needs very quickly, so he will let me know ahead of time and we have maybe three weeks to turn those around from when he’s evaluated yields and all the many other things he considers and makes selections [so] that we can get quality data done before he plants it. It’s luckily a very small number of samples. The rest of the samples then do get analyzed [and] processed before maybe the end of spring, early summer, so that he can have some of the quality information while he’s looking at plots and making selections in that way.
Drew Lyon: Okay. It is a very time critical period right in there, so I can see where you’d have quite a push at certain times of the year.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Yes. We’re sort of in the middle of our busy season right now and it’s sort of the opposite of the wheat breeders, so we have, you know, opposite seasonality of our busy times.
Drew Lyon: Okay. So, can you explain why quality is so important? It’s something that the Grain Commission really finds very important [and] that growers find important. Tell us why it’s so important.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Sure. So, our customers, primarily Asian countries, have very high standards for the wheat that they’re buying. They’re paying quite a bit, not only for the grain but for the shipping of the grain, and they have high expectations of performance of this grain. So, even though a grower doesn’t necessarily get paid exactly on quality, our export market really depends on having that high quality.
We’re in competition with other countries who want to try to produce similar–especially hard wheat–and if our quality goes down at all, we may lose some of that market share. So, it’s very important, especially with soft wheat as well, that we have high quality to make the products that–especially these sponge cakes and cookies that are in very high-end bakeries that are very important in Japan and Korea in particular, and some of the desserts in the Philippines as well.
Drew Lyon: Okay. I imagine it’s kind of a tricky business because, as you said, no individual growers necessarily paid for quality, and yet the sale from the region is dependent on good regional quality. So, you kind of have to, as a grower, prioritize it–even though it may not wind up directly being more money in your pocket today, it may be more money in your pocket in the future because it’ll maintain sales to customers like Japan that tend to pay a premium for high-quality wheat.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Absolutely. And one thing that we do know is that if we lose sort of any of that export market share, it’s tough to regain it. So, we have trade teams from many of our major export customers every year and they’re always asking about how the quality of this crop is, what are the top varieties, what does their quality look like. It’s very important to them and they keep a close eye on what is popular in the region. And if we have varieties that are very popular that are high quality, that really increases their confidence in continuing to buy from us and have this very strong market.
It can also go the other way. So, it’s important in both the immediate and long term that we’re continuing to grow high-quality varieties and really giving our customers that confidence that we will continue to provide that high-quality material to them.
Drew Lyon: Okay. One of the tools or ways that the wheat industry in Washington has tried to maintain this quality is through the Preferred Varieties List. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is and how it’s used?
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Sure. So, the Preferred Variety List is funded by the Washington Grain Commission, the Oregon Wheat Commission, and the Idaho Wheat Commission. And it’s really a list of varieties that are currently being grown or new and up-and-coming varieties separated out by a market class and ranked based on their quality scores alone. We don’t take yield into consideration or disease resistance. There are other experts to do that.
We focus on the grain milling flour and baking quality. And, there are different categories based on the numbers, the statistics that I generate: most desirable, desirable, acceptable, and least desirable. And the way we use it with growers and seed dealers is that we would never ask someone to sacrifice yield. That’s their money making.
However, if a grower has maybe two or three varieties that they know or think would work best in their growing environment and they’re trying to choose between them–yield all sort of being equal–we ask that they choose the variety higher up on the quality list so that we continue to maintain and continue to improve the quality of the wheat in this region. So, we’re not asking for yield or money sacrifice, but just continue upholding those high standards. So that’s how we use it with growers and seed dealers.
We also work with the trade teams and every trade team that comes wants to sit down and look at the list. And usually they’ve seen the list from the previous year and they ask what all the new varieties are, how many acres they’re getting, what’s really popular, [and] what’s dropped out of favor. So, it’s really important for them also to get a good handle on what really the market and the production looks like.
Drew Lyon: Okay. And then you say they all come and that’s a top of the mind question for them?
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: It absolutely is. We do a tour of the lab and things like that, but they really want to sit down and talk about what’s on this list, because from their perspective, they want us always to be growing the most high-quality varieties, of course–and we want that as well but that has to balance with yield. So, they’re always kind of trying to find out what’s becoming popular. Are we seeing any concerns? Things like that.
Drew Lyon: Okay. So, they might be concerned if some variety that’s low on the list is getting lots of acres. That might raise a red flag for them.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Yes, that is a concern. And, you know, right now that doesn’t look like it’s the case. A lot of the very popular varieties have really fantastic quality, so they were thrilled this year when they came and learned that information. But it can go the other way and we can have some of those difficult conversations. You know, maybe four years in the past, things like that where some of the really popular varieties weren’t quite as high of quality as they would prefer and then that’s our responsibility also to work on education of sort of the breeder-grower-seed dealer industry about, you know, “They’re getting nervous. We really need to make sure we’re prioritizing quality along with obviously all the agronomics.”
Drew Lyon: Okay. So where does a person find this list of preferred varieties?
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: It is available online, I believe, through any of the three commissions. So, going to the Washington Grain Commission website, I believe has it. We have physical copies at our lab. We also–I believe that on the Variety Selection app, or at least in that information, it is also available through WSU and I think Clark Neely.
Drew Lyon: Yeah, I think the smallgrains.wsu.edu website has it under variety testing and I think the variety testing tool has a column on quality. So, it could be one of the things you select varieties on—yield, of course, as you said, that’s usually the number one but then you can also have a kick out what the quality is, and so you can kind of compare that way.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: I believe so, and I really like that those folks have integrated all of that so that all the information is in one place because it’s often harder to get that quality information if you’re not stopping by our lab or things like that. So, I think it’s been really helpful to have that tool as well.
Drew Lyon: You put a lot of work into determining the quality of these varieties. I mean, it’s multiple samples over multiple years, I assume, to come up with the category you place it in. And so, it’s good to share that information and it should be fairly easy for people to find.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Mmm hmmm. And I will say, a variety has to be in variety testing, so it is only varieties that are entered in variety testing that can be on the list. So, sometimes folks will put out varieties that haven’t gone through variety testing and if that’s the case, then we don’t know what their quality looks like. So, we find it really helpful if varieties go through the variety testing program and samples have to be in the program for 3 years and have at least 15 observations across those three years. And those three years could be Washington or Oregon or Idaho–any combination–but three calendar years. And then just to really get a fair comparison, because we have some years have highly varied stressors or conditions, they have to be in for 3 years and 15 observations. And we found that’s where they statistically sort of stabilize.
And then we didn’t exactly determine the categories ourselves. We have the statistical data and it’s based on a number. And together with the Commissions, we all got together and decided the categories. So, I think that’s important that the Commissions, and really particularly the Washington Grain Commission, has been pushing for and prioritizing this quality. And so, they’ve really kind of raised the bar to meet most desirable and desirable for varieties in those categories.
So, I think, you know, it’s really evident that they put a lot of emphasis on that as well, which we think is just fantastic and really helps support our program and also that export market that’s just so vital to this region.
Drew Lyon: Yeah, I think I’ve read 90% of our crop is exported, so it’s very important to Washington wheat that we maintain that.
Thanks for all your work to help us with this quality, because I’m sure that’s central to our ability to sell Washington wheat around the world. [I] appreciate what you do and [for] making the information available to growers.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Thanks. I have a really excellent team. I just want to say that–we’ve got a fantastic team of people processing samples, milling, doing flour testing, baking, all of the support needed. We’ve just got an amazing team and this is only possible because of those wonderful individuals that are in our lab.
Drew Lyon: People make a difference.
Dr. Alecia Kiszonas: Absolutely.
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 email@example.com — (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.