Aug 272006
 
Authors: Brandon Owens The Rocky Mountain Collegian

Calling it a huge breakthrough in crop development, a team of CSU agriculture experts announced recently the creation of a new wheat variety.

It’s called “Ripper.”

After a decade of development and testing, researchers with CSU’s Agricultural Experiment Station made a wheat that is drought-resistant and, according to them, makes an excellent loaf of bread.

“Ripper is great because it is high yielding and has high stress tolerance, meaning it’s tolerant to high temperature,” said professor Scott Haley, who teaches advanced plant breeding. “It also has high quality milling and baking characteristics.”

While Ripper isn’t being mass-produced and sold yet, it has been made available to about two-dozen Colorado-certified seed growers. The growers will plant the new red wheat this fall and harvest it next summer.

Dan Anderson, certified seed grower and president of Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, hopes to plant about 40 acres of the new variety this fall.

“CSU has always produced good wheat varieties. I’ve always had good luck with them,” Anderson said. “Dr. Haley is one of the most respected wheat breeders in the country.”

After harvesting, the growers will register the wheat and eventually sell it to Colorado farmers. In a couple years, it will be used in commercial wheat products.

As they have done regularly throughout the years-long development, researchers gathered last week at a lab inside the Plant Science Building, just east of the Clark Building, and baked bread.

As part of that process, the researchers first poured Ripper into a large, plastic-looking mill, inside of which the wheat was broken down into various parts, including break flour, reduction flour and bran. At the end of the process, the break flour is combined with the reduction flour to produce typical bakers flour.

CSU research associates Josh Butler and Hayley Miller were the “cooks” for this quality test. They took the flour and added water, a sugar-salt solution and yeast, kneading and forming dough that they baked inside an oven at the lab.

Whenever Butler and Miller test Ripper and make bread, they often stop during various steps in the process to conduct tests on the wheat. The pair of research associates in Haley’s Wheat Breeding and Genetics Program enjoys the research so much that they claim to work up to 70 hours in some weeks.

“Ripper makes a very good loaf of bread,” Butler explained Wednesday while baking bread. “It has some of the best mixing qualities that I’ve seen in wheat. Also, the flour yield was higher than most of the wheat that we test. I think Ripper is going to be a huge breakthrough for us.”

Despite all these benefits, the new wheat variety does have a couple of potential disadvantages. It has been found to be susceptible to Stripe Rust Resistance, which is a disease that attacks certain crops.

Haley said he wasn’t overly concerned about the disease because wheat crops in Colorado are predominately “dry land” crops, which means that they only receive water from natural sources like rain. Stripe Rust Resistance primarily attacks irrigated wheat.

Another concern is that Ripper has been found to have an average test weight. This can be troubling because farmers want heavier wheat that produces higher yields and earns them more money.

Again, Haley isn’t alarmed.

“In 1995, Colorado developed a bad reputation because of a lot of poor quality wheat,” he said. “Ripper has a chance to improve Colorado’s wheat marketing situation by replacing all the bad varieties.”

The professor said that the past new varieties of wheat have increased the average yield for farmers at the rate of about 1 percent per year.

Ripper would not have been possible, Haley said, without the enduring efforts of the 13 graduate and undergraduate student employees in the Wheat Breeding and Genetics Program, which is part of the Agriculture Experiment Station.

The station, which includes seven testing locations across Colorado, has about 15,000 different plots where wheat is grown and tested.

The process of creating Ripper has required hundreds of field trials and dozens of lab experiments. Various cross-pollination was done with the very best wheat and, gradually, Ripper was made.

Haley, who has been with the wheat-breeding program since 1999, said he chose crop breeding so he could “contribute to humanity and help feed the world.”

“Ripper is my 14th variety of wheat,” he said. “Getting a new variety out to the farmers is just great and it’s what makes it all worth it. It’s so gratifying.”

Staff writer Brandon Owens can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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