Amber Waves of SuperSoft Wheat

“The future success of many of Oregon’s agricultural industries is likely to lie in identity-preserved markets, providing high-quality products that have real added value to end users.”
Russ Karow
Chair, OSU Department of Crop and Soil Science

Wheat fields may have inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write a song about America’s beautiful “amber waves of grain,” but not all wheat is created equal. Mid Columbia Producers, Inc. (MCP), a farmer-owned cooperative based in Sherman County, Oregon, is banking that a new type of soft winter wheat developed by OSU scientists will earn a premium in the marketplace.

Last fall, MCP signed an exclusive licensing agreement with OSU to plant and market a wheat variety that has been in development since 1992. According to Russ Karow, chair of the OSU Department of Crop and Soil Science, the agreement “opens new doors and creates important marketing opportunities for Oregon wheat producers.”

OSU’s wheat studies are conducted in Corvallis and at agricultural experiment stations in Pendleton and Hermiston. Varieties developed by the late Warren E. Kronstad have nearly doubled wheat yields in the Pacific Northwest since 1960. Jim Peterson leads OSU’s wheat research endeavors and holds the Warren Kronstad Wheat Research Chair in Crop and Soil Science. Historically, public wheat varieties are released openly and marketed as a commodity, leading to a loss of brand identity for novel varieties.

The future of the OSU “SuperSoft” wheat variety will be different. It has superior end-use qualities — low protein content, high flour yields, large cookie diameters and high sponge cake volumes — that are prized by millers and the baked goods industry. By granting an exclusive license, OSU will enable wheat producers to capture value by segregating and delivering a product with superior quality, says Karow.

“The future success of many of Oregon’s agricultural industries is likely to lie in identity-preserved markets, providing high-quality products that have real added value to end users,” he adds.

MCP Manager Raleigh Curtis says the cooperative is excited about the new opportunity. “This will be the first soft white wheat variety identity-preserved (IP) program of this type in the United States and perhaps in the world,” he says. Cooperative members planted 3,500 acres last fall and may increase that to about 80,000 acres in 2006. MCP plans to begin marketing “SuperSoft” this summer.

More than 10 years of research and breeding go into a new wheat variety. Researchers evaluate tens of thousands of experimental lines each year to select a handful that have potential for commercial production. In addition to soft white wheat, OSU researchers are developing hard wheat varieties to better meet the needs of the Asian noodle market. Growers and the Oregon Wheat Commission partner with OSU researchers in breeding and genetics studies.

Today, the legacy established by Kronstad and his colleagues continues with support through a wheat industry endowment, managed by the OSU Foundation.


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