A Tough Year for Spring Wheat with Dr. Mike Pumphrey


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For questions or comments, contact Dr. Mike Pumphrey via email at m.pumphrey@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. 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.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Dr. Mike Pumphrey. Mike is a professor and 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 and current releases are the most widely planted spring wheat in the northwest. Breeding goals in this program also include herbicide tolerant wheat varieties, high falling numbers, and varieties with specific value added and use characteristics. Mike teaches courses in crop growth and development and advanced principles in plant breeding and genetics in addition to broad involvement in WSU extension programs. Hello, Mike.

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: Hey, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So we want to talk a little bit about 2021. It was an odd year, very start off, fairly normal, but then a lot of heat and dry as you moved in the season. And that weather probably affected– well, it did affect the spring plant crops more than it did the winter crops. So, I’m curious, how does that affect a spring wheat breeding program like yours when we have this very unusual year? What kind of information is a good for gathering information? Is it bad or just different?

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: I would say by and large, just bad. You know, I’ve been receiving a lot of our yield trial data from from around the state over the past few weeks as we’ve finished harvest and are compiling all that data. And it’s really, really hard to look at, say, four to eight bushel yield potential and given the variation that you get in trials when moisture is really limiting, if it’s a problem. So our component of variation, our ability to like really tease out what’s doing well and not is really magnified by a soil properties, things that water usually helps kind of smooth. And so I have very poor yield data, not much for pest or disease data, because most of them require moisture. The samples aren’t particularly going to be good for evaluating end use quality because our grain is now, you know, got more damaged starch. It has high protein content, which is not good for a soft wheat. And it’s even got too high a protein content for a hard wheat to really bake up a representative product. So it’s just pretty much bad, bad, bad. But, you know, we do get in some locations to see what’s really tough, what maintains test weight, what you know, can hold up at the top of the pack for yield, even though the yield is maybe only 40 or 50 percent of what we want.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So what are you — What are you going to do with the data, I guess? Are you just going to throw it all out or are you going to be able to throw it in with the average? Last year was a very good spring wheat yield. So when you throw it together or you have the average data or just what what do you do it?

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, for sure. I’ll be relying on data from those lines last year more than I ever do. You know, normally I look back to verify that there’s stability and quality in the disease ratings. And but I generally take the multi-location averages excuse me, multi location averages for yield, you know, years, you know, year after year as they come. And I don’t do a lot of retrospective, you know, looking back. But this year, I have no choice where we’ll factor in how they performed last year, as well as whether they survived with things like test weight, plant height, maturity, you know, even yield where it’s where it’s reasonably, you know, measured, I guess. And so kind of use both years.

Drew Lyon: Okay, and does a year like this change your thinking about how you put out your program, the look maybe locations or timing or whether it’s no-tilled or tilled or what? Well, I guess I’m trying to get at. Or do you just throw it out as a abnormal, abnormal year and you hope for better next year?

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: Well, it really if anything, you know, as I mentioned earlier, when you when you really don’t have enough moisture like we did on spring wheat this year, it tells you a lot about those sites and how much inherent variability there is. So there are sites that I’m probably not going to go back to, because if we do have a dry year, the data is so variable that I just don’t get a lot from it. Now, sites that even if they’re low in terms of rain, but but the site is uniform, then that’s better. Unfortunately, you know, we really like to test in no-till and conventional till conditions. I can tell you that my reduced are no-till fields this year had much more variability in yield. You know, and I think that’s a function of how moisture gets wicked away sometimes with that extra straw and residue plus, you know, maybe a little bit slower establishment in germination in the spring because of the temperature being a few degrees cooler, you know, compared to neighboring fields. But we’re not going to do any wholesale changes. The primary function is we try to have trials in the right areas of the state that are representative of the production systems, as well as the geographies where spring wheat’s grown. So it’s not like I’m just going to quit planting in the dryland country because spring wheat can be an important rotation crop out in the low rainfall areas or rescue crop or winter kill, you know, crop or whatever it may be. So we’re not we’re not going to have any wholesale changes.

Drew Lyon: Okay. One of the things mentioned in your introduction was working on varieties with specific value and added end-use characteristics. Can you talk about any of those and where those might be and in your breeding program?

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, we’ve I mean, we’ve released a few, you know, everything we strive to have really high quality that really sets a benchmark for end-use, you know, acceptance by both millers and bakers. But, you know, we’ve had varieties released, including like Ryan, which is our number one soft white spring wheat in the state and one of the top wheat varieties in the entire northwest. It’s got really exceptional noodle qualities, which has taken interest. There’s already specific, you know, contracts to source that seed and take it for noodle production. We have new grant research. Just got a recent US excuse me, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant focused on micronutrient concentration and hard spring wheats. And so looking at basically whole grains spring wheat, nutritional content, biofortification, things like iron and zinc, to pair that with the right functional properties of the flour and of the dough so that you can have a high quality, more nutritious, wholegrain product. So we I mean, there there’s a lot of basic research going along with that to build that. But it also it’s already where we’re measuring it in advance germplasm and actually having that as a breeding target that we didn’t used to have. We also, you know, look at things like the presence of excess heavy metals, things like cadmium are not good. And so, you know, arsenic, you might hear stories about rice, baby food or grains. Those are traits that we started paying more and more attention to select variation that’s keeping us on the lower end of what we will accumulate for those heavy metals so that it’s, you know, better for your brain. And, you know, holds up and in all the things a farmer needs.

Drew Lyon: Okay, well, another area you do work on and that has particular interest to me is herbicide tolerant wheat. Can you talk about that?

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: Well, we’ve released now two-gene Clearfield spring club wheat that’s named Hedge CL+ that was on seed increase the past two years and will be commercially available looking in 2022.  We released Net CL+, which is a two-gene Clearfield hard red spring wheat that’s actually been right at the top of the back for yield and you know, brought adaptation among all hard red spring weeds, not just Clearfield type. They really held up well this year and it’s been in a few trials. We have these data in 2021. It’s been right at the very top. So that’s the first, you know, sort of lines out of the gate. We have three two-gene Clearfield soft white spring wheats and really good genetic backgrounds that perform very well statewide and variety testing this year, even given the conditions, but have done well in the breeding programs in previous years. So we should be feeling, you know, that rotation option as well. And then looking forward, we’re at the point with the coaxium system that we have really advanced by cross lines. And in spring, we we have to have three genes, all three alleles for four that the coaxium trait fixed in the germplasm. So we’ve introduced those aggressively into some of our most elite backgrounds. And there you’re still talking about two to three years out. But those are coming down the pipeline very fast.

Drew Lyon: Okay, good. Good to hear that. With a Clearfield spring wheat, is that more for a rotational benefit or people actually spraying Beyond herbicide in those?

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: It’s it’s mainly for the rotational benefit. And we see it just simply by planting them in yield trials that, you know, have a history of either, you know, a lot of pulse crop production where they use Pursuit a year in and year out or coming into fields that have been in winter wheat field production. You basically just see it as a bump in yield by, say, 5-20%, depending on the location or year.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So in hindsight, 2021 did not… wasn’t good for farmers and it wasn’t very good for a spring wheat breeding program, but we hope that maybe it’s just a blip and we don’t have to deal with it. What happens if this is a precursor to a future of I think climate change suggests that our summers are going to become warmer and drier. What what are you doing anything in the breeding program to try to look for spring wheats that will perform better than that? I guess maybe you could plant them. If our winters are also warmer and wetter, you could plant them earlier, I suppose.

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: So that has been a sort of natural progression in the northern plains over the past few decades. And there’s you know, you can read peer reviewed literature to date that says part of our increases in spring yields has been actually warmer March’s planting in Montana or North Dakota a little earlier than than average. But, you know, we are thinking about these traits long-term. You know, we’ve got research with all the high throughput phenotyping, looking at stress tolerance with drones and special imaging to to measure water status and water relations, as well as biomass. So those are like selection goals. We also do work more and more on fall seeded or facultative spring wheat, which, you know, if we’re going to be in a more mild than, you know, it’s pretty rare. We can plan a spring wheat trial and it’s pretty rare that I kill one anywhere in the southern part of the state. So for this, you know, one bright, bright, shining example. 2021 was our fall seeded spring wheat trials at Moses Lake and Pasco yielded a hundred and sixty bushels plus. Best trials I had. Very uniform, great yield data. That’s because they were irrigated and we could control that water part and because they matured earlier than the spring wheat would given the heat that we got in June and July, they escaped a lot of that. So they were absolutely beautiful trials. So that’s another kind of long-term vision for adapting, you know, the wheat systems. And then I would say the third is maturity, per say. And, you know, it’s been a big focus of mine since I started here now, you know, my 12th crop in 2021, to get our maturities earlier and earlier while not sacrificing on yield. And I do that because it, you know, farmers basically want it everywhere so that their harvest time is more synchronous. They don’t want to give up yield to get there. But we generally see higher test weight because it’s finishing earlier at a less stressful time harvest, you know, in labor, you know, operations on the farm can be tightened up instead of waiting on spring wheat to finally mature. And so, you know, we continue. And that’s, you know, something like Ryan is earlier than any of the spring wheats we’d released at WSU over the past couple of decades. It’s taken over because it didn’t give up anything on yield. It’s earlier, it’s more what a farmer wants. And I think that earliness, if you look around the world and hotter, drier climates, you have to have that ability to escape. You know, wheat’s not going to stop being a cool season, you know, seed free grass. We have to, you know, make it more in tune with the environment.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so farming is going to remain challenging. We’re going to have variation, but a lot of exciting things going on in the wheat breeding program to help us try to address those things.

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: Yeah, I haven’t gotten bored yet.

Drew Lyon: [ laughter ] All right. Thank you, Mike. Appreciate your time.

Dr. Mike Pumphrey: All right. Thanks, Drew.

[ Music ]

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 lyon@wsu.edu — (drew.lyon@wsu.edu). 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.

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