Wheat (Triticum spp), is a cereal grain and member of the grass family, that produces a dry, one-seeded fruit commonly called a kernel. Wheat first appeared in the United States in 1777 as a hobby crop and had a tremendous economic impact on the development and growth of Oregon, making it a settled area before mountain states. Wheat production in Central Oregon is almost entirely under irrigation, while dryland production is north along the Columbia River and the eastern portion of the Columbia Basin, where rainfall is adequate for economic viability of the crop.
Today there are over 30,000 different varieties of wheat, which can be divided up into six different classes; hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, hard white, soft white and durum. Farmers in Central Oregon primarily grow wheat varieties that are either from the hard red winter or soft white classes. Hard red winter wheat is planted in the fall and grows until it is about 5 inches tall. When cold weather and winter begins, it becomes dormant and continues growing into the following spring. It is harvested in late spring early summer by driving combines through the fields and thrashing the wheat kernels from the stock. Some wheat is stored in silos until the grower wishes to sell it, while other times the wheat is hauled to grain elevators where it is sold and exported. Hard red winter wheat is used for bread, hard baked goods and added to other flours to increase protein content. Soft white winter wheat is generally planted in Central Oregon in the spring and harvested in late summer or early fall in the same manner as hard red spring wheat. Soft wheat has a larger percentage of carbohydrates, so it has less gluten forming protein. Since it has a lower protein content it is used to make cake and pastry flour.
Wheat variety trials conducted at the COARC Madras site are a part of a statewide project to evaluate variety performance across the state. Research on fertility management has also been a team effort to create guidelines targeted at maintaining desired protein levels.