As the Plunger Falls: More on Low Falling Numbers with Kim Garland-Campbell & Camille Steber


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Show Notes & Resources Mentioned:

Listen to part one first.

Contact Information:

Contact Camille Steber via email at and contact Kim Garland-Campbell via email at

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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: Welcome to the second of two episodes on low falling numbers with Kim Garland-Campbell and Camille Steber.

Drew Lyon: It’s interesting, this simple idea of low falling numbers is really much more complicated than the simple low falling numbers. [ Laughter from all ]

Camille Steber: Welcome to biology. Welcome to our world. [ Camille laughs ]

Kim Garland-Campbell: Well, I meant — and then the other complicating factor is that the, you know, is as breeders, we want to select for resistance, but the genes controlling these responses aren’t the same. So, some of them overlap. Some of them do control both response to LMA and response to pre-harvest sprouting, but some don’t. And so, we need to kind of figure it out as breeders so that regardless, you know, of what causes it, growers can choose varieties that have good, stable falling numbers. And so, this is — I often say this to growers — like, this is something I need to worry about. You don’t need to worry about it. Just, you know, what I want to do is make sure that — and Mike and Arron also, all three of us want to make sure that when we’re selecting something that has higher falling numbers we understand the reasons why and stuff like that.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, we got — your work has kind of allowed us to take a look at what we have today and decide whether it is going forward with the information you’re gaining, do you see hope for developing cultivars that are resistant to pre-harvest sprouting and still emerge well?

Kim Garland-Campbell: Yeah. Yeah, I do, actually.

Drew Lyon: And, and resistant to this late maturity alpha-amylase problems.

Camille Steber: Actually, I’m pretty proud of the work that we’ve done recently on LMA. It’s been an uphill battle. It’s a very difficult trait to work with because it’s highly variable. So, it’s not just that it causes me a headache in the lab because two independent experiments look quite different from each other. I think the farmers see it, too. You’ll sometimes have people come to me and say, “Look. I and the farmer next door planted the same variety. And I had a low falling numbers problem, but he didn’t. Why is that?” Well, it’s because this late maturity alpha-amylase problem there’s, like, a five-day window in development during which a cold temperature swing causes the production of alpha-amylase, so long falling number. So, if one man’s crop was a little bit ahead or a little bit behind the other, he might get lucky and dodge the bullet. Whereas the other guy winds up with a LMA problem.

Drew Lyon: And there’s lots of things that can affect that, right? Depth to seeding, fertilizer. A number of different —

Kim Garland-Campbell: And topography, you know.

Drew Lyon: Topography, yeah.

Kim Garland-Campbell: If you’re up on the hill or down in a dry, you know.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Oh, it gets very complicated very quickly, doesn’t it? [ Drew laughs ]

Camille Steber: Oh, yes.

Drew Lyon: Well, I know this is a huge issue for many growers, and particularly in the years it’s a problem, it’s a real problem. So, I’m really encouraged by this work. Where can our listeners go to learn more about low falling numbers? And I know we have some stuff on the small grains website. What about you two? Do you have your own sites?

Camille Steber: There’s our falling numbers websites,

Drew Lyon: Do you want to spell that for our listeners?

Camille Steber: S-T-E, B as in boy, E-R, lab, L-A-B, dot org. And we just had a falling numbers workshop in Spokane a month ago and the Wheat All About It podcast is going to have coverage of that falling numbers workshop. So, you should be listening in on that. And, Kim and I will be writing a Wheat Life article that should be coming out in May.

Kim Garland-Campbell: And I did want to say one more thing about the emergence issue. I was talking with Arron Carter, and we’re going to kind of go back to a thing that breeders have done for a long time where we select — you know when we’re trying to select for negatively correlated traits. And one example is high protein and high yield in hard, red winter wheat. You want both high protein and high yield, but they move in opposite directions. And, so you use various types of index selection and things like that. And, so, like, for example, what we thought we would do in our breeding programs is select hard using some of the molecular markers that we have for pre-harvest sprouting resistance and then take that material out to land and plant it really deep and see what comes up, you know, so that we at least have already put some resistance in there. So, anyway, that’s our approach going forward.

Drew Lyon: So, you know, because emergence from depth is so important in the drier areas, particularly out in our lower rainfall areas around Lind, is it less of a problem when the cultivars develop for this higher rainfall area where we don’t — where that’s not a big issue?

Kim Garland-Campbell: Yeah, and I think if you just look at the variety rankings, you’ll see that many of the varieties that are grown in the higher rainfall area actually have very good resistance to low falling numbers. But those aren’t the ones that are growing out there for a reason because they don’t come up as well, you know, so.

Drew Lyon: Oh. Well, you breeders have your work out for you because those are two traits you want and they’re negatively correlated, so that’s…

Kim Garland-Campbell: But luckily, we’ve dealt with things like that before, so.

Camille Steber: I never said why I’m really pleased about our LMA research. We have reached the point now where we have mapped quantitative trait low sire genes that affect that trait and some of them overlap with those previously published by the Australians for LMA. So, it’s our hope that that’s going to help us with selection, especially since the trait is very tricky to score.

Drew Lyon: Okay. That’s excellent. That should really be key to moving — did, I guess do you two see a timeline on when you might when people might start seeing material like this coming out of a breeding program?

Kim Garland-Campbell: Well, I think, you know, in the last three years, especially, all of the breeders have realized that this is a very important trait, you know, like — at least the public sector breeders. We can’t release a line from WSU or from the USDA that is susceptible. Whereas three years ago, we still kind of could, you know. So, from now on, you’ll see coming out of the public sector programs that we have some level of resistance in all the material that goes out the door. And I think in, you know, the breeding program is a big pipeline, or I’ve likened it to a battleship, you know? So, you don’t just turn it around on a dime, you’re always trying to kind of move it a little bit. But I do think that with the emphasis on it and the problems that this trait has caused for growers and the economic losses that we’ve all gotten the message, and it’s, like, “Okay. Make sure that’s in there.” You know? [ Laughter ]

Drew Lyon: And Camille, you mentioned Australia. They kind of have a, they’ve had a problem with the late maturity alpha-amylases. So, do you have, is there cooperation going on between Australia and the U.S. or — they’re one of our trade —

Camille Steber: Competitors.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, competitors. Yeah. I was going to use a different word, but “competitor” is a good word, so.

Camille Steber: Yeah. [ Laughter ]

Drew Lyon: So, but does it still allow interaction between the two for?

Camille Stever So, yeah. They were the first to describe it. And we’ve been rather fortunate in that our release cultivars that have the problem have all had the version of LMA where you need to have a cold event before you see problems with low falling number. The Australians actually had released varieties that had the more extreme version of LMA where no cold fluctuation needed.

Drew Lyon: Oh, really?

Camille Steber: The trait is always expressed. And actually, I’ve become interested in that because that’s useful for mapping. But we were fortunate in that we did not reach that point. I think that our quality checks on our breeding programs prevented us from reaching that point. So, the Australians discovered that problem. They thought it was the reason that their falling numbers were not as good as ours, generally speaking. And one of the reasons that Japan preferred our wheat. So, they’ve been working for a long time on trying to prevent late maturity alpha-amylase. In their breeding programs, they actually have it as a nationwide standard that all varieties must pass an LMA test two years in a row before they can be released.

Drew Lyon: Interesting. So, we have a global problem that’s really can be quite an issue here locally. And we have a very good team working on it. And with some good hope for progress in the very near future. Thank you both very much.

Kim Garland-Campbell: Thank you, Drew.

Camille Steber: Thank you, 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 –( You can find us online at 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.