Wheat harvest photo

On Feb. 24, 2021, Thomas Duffy, the Director of the Office of Agricultural Policy at the U.S. Department of State, joined the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) Joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee meeting to discuss global agriculture. The Office of Agricultural Policy promotes global food security, ensures a level playing field in agricultural trade, and advocates for agricultural biotechnology. 


Thomas Duffy, then Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, giving remarks at the Launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises addressing global food security.

Thomas Duffy, then Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, giving remarks at the Launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises.  Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti Copyright: FAO.

We Need Science-Based Policies

“With climate change at the center of the U.S. foreign policy, we believe that innovations that support resource-efficient and climate-smart agriculture can promote resilience and sustainable food production globally,” Duffy said.  Some of the areas which hold the greatest promise, according to Duffy, include biotechnology twinned with “Big Data” and advances in artificial intelligence. As users of these innovations, farmers play an essential role in adopting and embracing new technologies to sequester carbon to mitigate climate change further and protect their investments.


Still, global access to and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology is a long way from reality. On a positive note, drought-tolerant and herbicide-tolerant GE (genetically engineered) wheat has been approved for the first time in Argentina. This advancement could have huge implications for global wheat markets if successful. USW and NAWG positions on biotechnology are available online.  

 Duffy stressed the need for global engagement, saying, “It’s important for us to leverage international forums and agreements to continue to advance science-based policies globally.”

We All Have a Role

International organizations play a critical role in setting worldwide standards and policies that underpin global trade in food and agriculture and responding to global challenges, such as feeding a growing population. As the Biden Administration has made clear, “The United States is committed to the international organizations that shape our world.” 


U.S. farmers traveled to East Africa to learn about global food security and food aid programs.

U.S. wheat, sorghum and rice growers observed East African food aid programs in 2019.

Duffy said, “We are all proud of the work done by the World Food Programme – headed by David Beasley who, while an international civil servant, is an American citizen. WFP was the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize and I am proud to note our steadily increasing support for WFP over the last several years. We believe American leadership in and support for international organizations is crucial, and we will continue to maintain or re-establish leadership roles in order to champion advancements in food and agriculture and represent U.S. farmers, ranchers, innovators, and workers.”


“In communities that rely largely on agriculture for their food and income, gender inequality translates into a large gender gap in agricultural productivity, for which countries pay a high price,” Duffy continued. Previous macro-level studies by UN Women have calculated potential gross gains of $100 USD million in Malawi, $105 million in Tanzania, and $67 million in Uganda per year from closing the agricultural productivity gap between men and women.


Given the challenges facing global food security and agriculture, it is more important than ever that the agriculture sector performs to its full capacity, which includes enabling women as leaders at all levels in the industry, leading to more efficient, inclusive and sustainable results. 

Safeguarding the Entire System

Finally, global access to food must be protected in the face of pandemic trade restrictions, increasing levels of poverty, international conflict, and the impacts of climate change. The United Nations SOFI report warns that the global rate of hunger has continued to rise despite the goal of zero hunger by 2030, and COVID-19 may increase the number of food insecure by up to 130 million people. 


The United States government, Duffy stated, is working to ensure the upcoming 2021 UN Food Systems Summit addresses global food security challenges through science-based solutions for sustainability in food production methods, supply chains, and regulatory policies. 


Duffy concluded by saying, “To achieve true and lasting food security, we need to build and safeguard the entire food ecosystem – the land and water, the local economies, the supply chain, the farmers, and the communities that depend on one another to thrive.” 


Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.

The journey of wheat begins in public and commercial breeding programs that maintain the process of improving varieties for farmers to grow, move into the supply chain and, ultimately, end up in food products around the world.

Public university breeding programs develop an estimated 65% of all U.S. wheat varieties, funded in part by farmers through state wheat commissions, royalties from the sale of public varieties, and USDA programs such as the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In this post, Wheat Letter offers broad information about public wheat breeding programs in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, and Wyoming. Future posts will cover breeding programs in other states.

South Dakota State University

With a primary goal to develop and release wheat varieties with high and stable yield potential and superior end-use quality for milling and baking, South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) wheat breeding program offers a strong return to farmers and downstream customers. The focus is on hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and hard white (HW) wheat development.

Public Wheat Breeding Programs are an investment by U.S. wheat farmers

“Breeding is a long-term process,” said SDSU Associate Professor and Winter Wheat Breeder Sunish Kumar Sehgal. “We need to keep investing in breeding for the long-term good of the program.”

Farmers support the SDSU breeding program through wheat checkoff funding administered by the South Dakota Wheat Commission. More support comes from federal programs, seed sales and other stakeholders.

Dr. Sunish Sehgal

Dr. Karl Glover

Approximately 75% of South Dakota’s HRS planted area includes  SDSU cultivars developed under the direction of Professor Karl Glover. With additional funding from the ARS through the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, Dr. Glover is also working collaboratively with Dr. Sehgal to develop new wheat varieties that are more resistant to fusarium head scab.

University of Minnesota

Historically, Minnesota HRS wheat has highly functional protein with a high-quality baking experience. Yet importers demand more consistent functional quality and domestic millers increasingly source grain from specific cultivars best suited for producing their products. That is why the University of Minnesota (UMN) HRS wheat breeding program is developing new disease-resistant, high-yielding cultivars with an increasing emphasis on improved end-use quality.

“Minnesota growers are by far the most progressive people I have ever worked with in terms of weighing economic, environmental and consumer demands,” said Charlie Vogel, CEO of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, which supports the UMN spring wheat breeding and genetics program led by Professor James Anderson. “They look beyond the farm gates, to a bigger picture of the customers we serve around the world.”

Dr. James Anderson. University of Minnesota photo.

Dr. Anderson said a comprehensive genetic and breeding approach is necessary to respond to farmer and end-use customer needs. UMN genetic studies identify wheat chromosomes and DNA markers that influence disease resistance and grain quality. Markers in turn help the breeder identify the best lines to work with, and the UMN team tests cultivars for commercial viability in field trials across the state.

North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University is home to three HRS, durum and HRW breeding programs that reflect the legacy of North Dakota wheat farmers to produce wheat that “provides special, inherent quality attributes that cannot be sourced elsewhere,” according to the North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC). The commission contributes about 40 percent of its budget to research, prioritizing investment in customer needs for end-use quality.

North Dakota State University is home to three HRS, durum and HRW Public Wheat Breeding Programs.

NDSU test plot, Carrington, N.D. NDSU photo.

The NDSU durum breeding program is the largest in the country, led by Dr. Elias Elias and a team of technicians and graduate students. The goal: maximize return to the farmer while yielding excellent quality durum to domestic and international markets. The majority – 90% or more – of durum planted in North Dakota are NDSU varieties.

Dr. Elias Elias, NDSU durum breeder.

North Dakota produces more HRS wheat than any other state. The NDSU HRS breeding program makes high end-use milling and baking quality a priority while advancing agronomic traits. Dr. Andrew Green, who leads the HRS breeding program with his team of technicians, said: “Protein quality is essential to maintain high HRS demand so our program emphasizes developing balanced varieties that are profitable for producers and valued by end-users.”

The photo at the top of this page is a demonstration trial Dr. Green created that includes every HRS variety developed by NDSU over more than 100 years.

Dr. G. Francois Marais breeds HRW wheat varieties at NDSU. This program focuses on developing new varieties that are adapted to the northern Plains with improved winter-hardiness, disease resistance, yield and processing quality.

NDSU varieties selected for commercialization are produced through NDSU’s North Dakota Foundation Seedstocks program and marketed by the North Dakota Crop Improvement Association.

Montana State University

Montana has a wide range of farming ecosystems so the Montana State University (MSU) wheat breeding program tries to producing HRS, HRW, HW and durum varieties adapted to meet the challenges of these conditions. MSU bread wheat varieties provide exceptional milling, dough and baking characteristics, while durum varieties meet the demanding standards of the world’s best pasta producers.

Professor Phil Bruckner heads up MSU’s HRW breeding program and is very familiar with export market quality standards. In 2017, he joined a USW Wheat Quality Improvement Team to Taiwan and Thailand to discuss which quality characteristics end users value the most. Assistant Research Professor Jason Cook currently manages MSU’s spring wheat breeding and serves as one of the directors along with Dr. Bruckner of the MSU Cereal Quality Laboratory. Dr. Cook worked closely with former MSU spring wheat breeder Dr. Luther Talbert who left a legacy of producing high-quality HRS varieties when he retired late in 2019. In addition, the growing interest in the use of HW wheat for the Asian noodle market has instituted noodle quality evaluation.

MSU HRW wheat breeder Dr. Phil Bruckner.

Over the years, MSU breeders developed hundreds of durum varietal lines and continue to do so. Dr. Mike Giroux, who heads MSU’s plant genetics program, is also breeding new durum lines. The first variety from that program, a high-yielding durum with desirable pasta quality traits including semolina extraction, pasta firmness and color, is now in the field with the MSU Foundation Seed program to increase seed stock for commercialization in 2022.

Through the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, Montana farmers invest over $2 million every year in wheat and barley research at MSU and other institutions.

University of Wyoming

Because of Wyoming’s relatively small wheat production area, HRW and HW varieties developed by neighboring public breeding programs are tested at University of Wyoming (UW) agricultural experiment stations. With checkoff funds administered by the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission (WWMC), farmers created the Crop Research Foundation of Wyoming in 2012 to make sure they would always have wheat seed sources that perform well in Wyoming’s high-altitude, short-growing season.

University of Wyoming wheat field trial.

Under this program, UW screens and develops elite HRW and HW lines from Colorado State University, Montana State University and the University of Nebraska. One example, cited by WWMC Executive Director Keith Kennedy, is “Spur,” a solid stem HRW variety developed at Montana State University that helps reduce damage from the wheat stem sawfly pest. Spur was licensed by the foundation in 2017 and sub-licensed to a private seed company for sale outside Wyoming. Kennedy said farmers seeded Spur on about 5% of Wyoming’s wheat area for the 2020/21 crop.

Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Southern and Central Plains Producers
Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers
Programs Serving West Coast Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva
AgriPro and WestBred


Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.

There is a wide range of U.S. public and commercial breeding programs working to develop wheat classes and varieties adapted to the production constraints in different regions while meeting customer end-use needs. An estimated 65% of all U.S. wheat varieties across six distinct classes were developed by public university breeding programs, funded in part by state wheat commissions, royalties from the sale of public varieties, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In this post, Wheat Letter offers broad information about public university wheat breeding programs in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. Future posts will cover breeding programs in other states.

Texas A&M

With support from research grants from the Texas Wheat Producers Board (TWPB), Texas A&M University puts a major focus on projects aimed at enhancing end-use wheat quality to produce a product with more functionality for domestic and overseas customers. For example, TWPB points to the recent development of two new Texas A&M winter wheat varieties that performed well with fewer inputs, decreasing farm financial burdens while showing exceptional milling and baking characteristics.

Dr. Amir Ibrahim is a professor and the project leader of the Texas A&M Small Grains Breeding program. He manages wheat cultivar development for South and Central Texas among other responsibilities. Dr. Jackie Rudd, Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder in the Texas Panhandle is also working to develop better wheat varieties for breadmaking and farmers alike. An associate research scientist in the AgriLife Cereal Quality Lab and other specialized researchers are part of the Texas A&M wheat team.

Texas A&M Wheat Breeding

Texas A&M geneticists Dr. Shuyu Liu (second from left) and Dr. Chenggen Chu (right) are using doubled haploid plants to shorten the time to develop genetically pure lines in a traditional winter wheat breeding scheme.

Oklahoma State University

Wheat Improvement research in Oklahoma is driven by an interdisciplinary team of Oklahoma State University (OSU) scientists charged with developing highly adapted winter wheat cultivars with marketable grain quality, in partnership with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission (OWC) and the Oklahoma Wheat Research Foundation. Dr. Brett Carver directs the program as OSU Wheat Genetics Chair.

OWC Executive Director Mike Schulte says the wheat genetics program is committed to excellence in creating varieties to meet the specific needs of Oklahoma wheat producers and the milling and baking industries. OSU varieties are sold to farmers through Oklahoma Genetics, Inc., a non-profit organization directed by Oklahoma farmers.

“OSU wheat varieties, thanks in large part to significant investment by producers through the check-off OWC manages, have led the state in planted area every year since 2010,” said Dr. Carver. “In addition, the top planted varieties from OSU almost always appear on preferred variety lists publicized by the U.S. domestic milling industry over the past five years. The emphasis by the OSU Wheat Improvement Team is, and will continue to be, on a quality yield, not just yield alone.”

OSU wheat genetics lead Dr. Brett Carver (right) in 2019 discussed cross breeding techniques to select  for functional quality in hard red winter wheat with British officials at the OSU research facilities.

Kansas State University

The wheat breeding team at Kansas State University (K-State), led by Dr. Allan Fritz in Manhattan, Kan. and Dr. Guorong Zhang at K-State’s Agricultural Research Center in Hays, Kan., has produced the most widely planted varieties in Kansas in nine of the past 10 years through the Kansas Wheat Alliance.

The world-renowned Wheat Genetics Resource Center (WGRC) has established a national and international network to conduct and coordinate genetic studies in wheat. Located in the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, the state’s single-largest, farmer investment in wheat research, the WGRC has also been recently designated as a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. This is the first I/UCRC focusing on plant sciences. The main K-State breeding team works with the WGRC on genomic mapping and marker-assisted breeding. Other cooperators include the USDA-ARS Hard Wheat Quality Laboratory and wheat programs in the Plant Pathology and Grain Science Departments. Some germplasm lines are also released in conjunction with USDA’s hard winter wheat genetics program.

There is tremendous producer support in the state and region for K-State’s wheat varieties and breeding program. Generous funding for its efforts comes from the Kansas Wheat Commission. Wheat quality is also a priority. Varieties tested for two years and earmarked for release are entered in the Wheat Quality Council (WQC) Milling and Baking Test Program to ensure the varieties meet WQC milling and baking standards. Grain Craft has recently moved its Wheat Quality Lab to the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, which completes the missing piece in the puzzle in the facility, from variety development through end-use quality testing.

In addition, in 2020, the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture awarded K-State a $1 million grant to establish the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) Winter Wheat Breeding Innovation Hub. K-State will lead the effort to evaluate research findings from several IWYP projects that contribute to “significantly improve” wheat yields.

The research team led by Dr. Allan Fritz (above) in Manhattan, Kan., and Dr. Guorong Zhang at K-State’s Agricultural Research Center in Hays, Kan., has produced the most widely planted wheat varieties in Kansas in nine of the past 10 years.

Colorado State University

Thanks to help from Colorado farmers through the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, the Colorado State University (CSU) wheat breeding program has built a reputation for success. The goal is to develop varieties that are adapted to Colorado’s unique growing conditions but also have excellent end-use quality to meet milling and baking needs. In 2019, Wheat Quality Lab Manager John Stromberger, now retired Wheat Breeder Dr. Scott Haley, and Extension Agronomist Jerry Johnson, reported on the quality of CSU trial varieties and encouraged producers to carefully consider planting agronomically acceptable varieties with better quality. CSU wheat breeding will continue under the direction of Dr. Esten Mason.

The Colorado Wheat Research Foundation (CWRF) works hand in hand with CSU to help develop and distribute new wheat varieties. As the university develops new varieties, CWRF takes ownership and works with eligible certified seed growers. CWRF collects royalties for certified seed that supply funding for more CSU wheat research. These varieties are sold under the brand name PlainsGoldTM.

A portion of funding for wheat breeding and research at Colorado State University comes from the sales of public wheat varieties.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The Nebraska Wheat Board supports research and breeding programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and USDA-ARS efforts to improve agronomic performance for producers, and end-use quality characteristics for millers, bakers and consumers. Dr. Stephen Baenziger heads the UNL small grains breeding program and says the work is highly dependent on a wide range of researchers and public and private support.

For example, Dr. Baenziger has spent several years studying hybridization of wheat in partnership with Dr. Ibrahim of Texas A&M. Ibrahim and Baenziger have tested more than 600 lines of hybrid wheat varieties in Nebraska and Texas. They are now developing the necessary knowledge base, germplasm and enhanced trait pools or patterns from these lines to support the development of hybridized wheat.

The team’s newest project, “Plant breeding partnerships: Continuing to develop and validate the tools for hybrid wheat,” is supported by a $650,000 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant.

Dr. Stephen Baenziger leads Public Wheat Breeding Programs at University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Dr. Stephen Baenziger heads the University of Nebraska – Lincoln small grains breeding program.

Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Northern Plains Producers
Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers
Programs Serving West Coast Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva
AgriPro and WestBred


By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy

New breeding technologies are forecast to offer many promises for consumers, producers and the environment. Plant Breeding Innovations (PBI) is a term defined by the International Seed Federation as, “the constantly evolving ideas and practices which enhance the field of plant breeding. Today’s innovations in plant breeding are developed using sophisticated science and technologies including cell biology, gene mapping and marker-assisted breeding.”


Unlike GMOs, gene editing technologies such as CRISPR and TALENs represent a breeding method in which precise changes are made to an organism’s genome, changes that many of which may also occur naturally in nature. These technologies do not require insertion of a “foreign” gene into the plant variety being developed.

Gene editing and other PBIs show excellent potential to improve food safety and affordability. Calyxt is a commercial organization that has developed a gene edited soybean offering the health benefits of zero trans-fat and reduced saturated fat oil. The company is also developing a high fiber wheat variety that could help many consumers meet recommended dietary fiber needs. Gene editing can also assist in reducing food waste. Intrexon (now known as Precigen) used this technology to create non-browning lettuce, which would extend its shelf life.

Producers are expected to see economic and environmental benefits from these innovations by using fewer crop protection inputs to grow more food on the same amount of land leading to less environmental impact – something an increasing number of consumers have shown they care about as well.

Global Regulations

Many countries are formulating policies on these new technologies. In mid-May the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) released revised rules on biotechnology. Under these rules, USDA stated that “gene edited products may be exempt from strict regulation so long as no “plant pest” is present, and the products could be produced through traditional breeding methods.”  Two other regulators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are expected to release their regulations in the future.

Japan has stated it will not label or regulate genome edited products as genetically engineered products. Some other countries that have put in process methods of regulating these new technologies are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Canada, with various ways of monitoring, such as consultative process or trait-based approaches. Alternately, the European Court of Justice ruled in June 2018 that gene editing would be regulated like GMOs.

To ensure that these new breeding techniques can fulfill their potential, wide-ranging benefits, governments should rely on sound science to develop policies. If unproven fears lead to highly regulated policies, the risk of disruption in international trade will be increased unnecessarily.


U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) regularly discuss breeding technologies and track how various governments are planning to regulate those products through our joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee. Any gene edited wheat varieties are expected to be several years away from commercialization. During that time, USW and NAWG will continue to work hand in hand with all sectors of the wheat value chain to ensure growers have access to technology and that our international customers can continue to count on access to the highest quality wheat in the world.

More information about how USW and NAWG support new plant breeding techniques  through science-based policies can be found here.


By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy

On May 18, 2020, USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS) published revised rules intended to modernize its regulatory system on genetically engineered organisms and other breeding technologies through a science-based system.

USDA said this new rule will help give U.S. farmers access to these critical tools “to help increase agricultural productivity and sustainability, improve the nutritional value and quality of crops, combat pests and diseases, and enhance food safety. This new rule signals to the world that the United States is focused on risk assessments based on science to give proper oversight to these new technologies.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service has introduced a new regulatory system for evaluating new plant traits derived from transgenic and gene editing technologies. The SECURE Rule was published in The Federal Register May 18.

In particular, the rule seeks to address products that are developed through gene editing, which is of great interest to U.S. wheat producers. Gene edited products may be exempt from  strict regulation so long as no “plant pest” is present, and the products could be produced through traditional breeding methods. While many in the industry are working to determine exactly how much of these exemptions will apply to wheat breeding, the  approach is similar to that taken by other countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Israel and Paraguay.

While of smaller interest to U.S. wheat customers, as there have been no genetically modified (GM) traits commercialized in wheat in the United States, the rule also adjusts the existing regulatory structure for GM plants. Those adjustments will make it easier for companies to bring to market GM plants with the same plant and trait combinations that USDA has previously reviewed.

Through its joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee (WBIC) with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) regularly consults with plant breeding companies and members of the grain handling industry. That dialog focuses on ensuring that regulation of new breeding technologies strikes an appropriate balance between preserving access to technology for U.S. farmers and avoiding market disruptions. That committee has established core policy positions regarding regulation of plants produced through gene editing, found here.

USW supports a science-based approach to regulating new technologies. Although there is no transgenic wheat in commercial production, U.S. wheat growers are excited about the potential for many of these new plant breeding innovations to feed a growing world population. This policy positions the U.S. to help encourage other trading partners to use science-based approaches when considering their own regulations on gene editing.

USW and NAWG will continue to work hand in hand with customers, seed developers and technology providers to ensure that domestic and overseas industry participants are informed when new technologies are brought to market. For more information, the USDA Rule can be found here and USDA’s Question and Answers can be found here.


By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, West Coast Office

Professional millers and bakers know that the appearance and taste of every product depends on the specific characteristics imparted by its flour ingredient. And those characteristics are deeply rooted in the ancient craft of plant breeding.

[Plant breeding is an ancient craft.] As far back as 10,000 years, farmers looked for traits that helped them grow more and better food. Egypt became the breadbasket of ancient Rome as its farmers adopted a type of wheat from the “fertile crescent” in modern Iraq to plant along the Nile River. Over time, the Egyptians found ways to grow a grain that was sturdy enough to transport long distances and stand up against pests. The Egyptian wheat traded with the Romans may not be what we are used to today, but the process for how it was grown to meet the needs of the consumer is by no means ancient history.

Today, the Wheat Genetics Resource Center at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center houses more than 30,000 wheat varieties from around the world that are descendants of ancient varieties. Kansas Wheat Vice President of Research and Operations Aaron Harries likened the collection to a “treasure hunt,” offering the opportunity to find the next innovation derived in part from each specimen. Researchers and breeders here, and at other programs across the United States, play an important role in the relationship U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) builds with its customers. By listening to both farmer and customer feedback, they work on developing high-yielding, disease resistant wheat seed with excellent milling, baking and processing qualities.

Wheat Genetics Resource Center at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan, Kan. Photo courtesy of the Kansas Wheat Commission.

Dr. Senay Simsek is a cereal chemist and professor at North Dakota State University and says that the personal connections that she has made on fifteen trips with USW to four different continents is crucial to her work. As an expert on hard red spring (HRS) wheat, Simsek says that when she prepares to meet overseas customers, she familiarizes herself with the types of wheat flour products they make, what the other ingredients are and what countries they buy wheat from. Being familiar with a market is important to understanding the unique needs of the customer. “Sophisticated” was the word she uses to describe customer needs and knowledge, emphasizing how important the technical process of using the right wheat for a specific product can be.

Dr. Senay Simsek joins USW staff to meet with U.S. wheat customers in Indonesia in 2019.

Dr. Senay Simsek joins USW staff to meet with U.S. wheat customers in Malaysia in 2019.

Each year, USW hosts several trade delegations that are traveling to the United States to learn firsthand about the U.S. wheat supply chain system. The delegations visit research institutes like the USDA Western Wheat Quality Lab at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. Its mission in part is to “conduct cooperative investigations with breeders to evaluate the milling and baking quality characteristics of wheat selections,” and to “conduct basic research into the biochemical and genetic basis of wheat quality in order to better understand the fundamental nature of end-use functionality.” The director of the lab, Dr. Craig Morris, welcomes many of the USW delegations to his lab each year and emphasizes the unique partnership that the lab, as part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, has within the industry, among other researchers and with state wheat commissions.

A USW Japanese trade delegation visits the USDA Western Wheat Quality Lab.

In September 2019, I had the opportunity to visit Washington State University with a trade delegation from Southeast Asia. We met with Dr. Michael Pumphrey, a spring wheat breeder, who walked us through the steps of the wheat breeding process. We watched as he cross-pollinated single wheat plants, a process that requires careful, precise techniques.

In his 27 years with USW, Steve Wirsching, Vice President and West Coast Office Director, based in Portland, Ore., has hosted many trade delegations and has also led many Wheat Quality Improvement Teams of wheat breeders to visit customers overseas. When asked why USW continues to put an emphasis on facilitating the relationships between customers and wheat researchers and breeders, he said, “It is important to listen to our customers and seek feedback on the quality characteristics they need. It is part of the U.S. Wheat Associates mission, to enhance wheat’s value for our customers.”

2017 Wheat Quality Improvement team in Thailand. Read more about this activity.

2018 Wheat Quality Improvement Team in Latin America. Read more about this activity.

According to www.innovature.com, the innovation and evolving breeding methods in agriculture and food, and a deep understanding of DNA, today helps scientists like Dr. Simsek and Dr. Pumphrey make even more precise genetic changes to wheat and other plants. Their work is needed more than ever to meet some of society’s most urgent and pressing challenges including climate change, sustainability, hunger and improved health and wellness.

Read other blog posts in this series:
Farmers and State Wheat Commissions
Grain Handlers
Exporters, Inspectors and USW Overseas Offices


Originally published Oct. 30, 2019, in “World Grain” by Susan Reidy. Editor’s Note: U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) supports advanced breeding methods such as the work described here from Australia as beneficial to farmers and international wheat buyers. Photo above: Arun Yadav from the Research School of Biology and ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at Australian National University (ANU). Photo by Lannon Harley, ANU.

Australian researchers have developed a new method to identify drought-resilient wheat quickly, cheaply and accurately.

Work by the scientists from The Australian National University (ANU), ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, and CSIRO Agriculture and Food could help breeders develop more drought-resilient crops that can produce more food and more profit with less water.

“Our work may be instrumental for farmers to maximize food production in the face of increasingly severe drought,” said Arun Yadav from the Research School of Biology and ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at ANU.

Yadav and the other lead researcher Adam Carroll said selecting wheat that can grow better during short- to medium-term drought is vital to help fight food insecurity around the world.

“Hardy crop plants that can maintain high yields under drought will help farmers produce more food reliably and maintain domestic and export markets for Australia,” Yadav said. “Drought is a major agricultural challenge in Australia, affecting food production, farmers’ livelihoods and costing the government billions of dollars in relief efforts.”

The simple test measured the relative abundance of four amino acids in wheat plants to predict their ability to maintain yield under drought much more accurately than current methods, Carroll said.

“This test can be done precisely in greenhouses all year round, at a fraction of the cost of traditional field-based methods,” he said. “Plus, it gives more accurate predictions.”

Professor Barry Pogson, a 2019 Eureka Prize winner and deputy director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at ANU, was also a member of the research team.

“If breeders are provided with 1,000 wheat varieties to choose from, they can select the drought resilient lines through a simple assessment of the four amino acids we’ve identified,” Pogson said. “The challenge is for us to show this technique does scale beyond the varieties we have tested to date.”

Greg Rebetzke and Gonzalo Estavillo from CSIRO Agriculture and Food conducted grain-yield evaluations under extensive field trials across the Australian wheat belt, which enabled the team to build a statistical model of the drought-tolerance predictor.

The study was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis.

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Botany.


By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Assistant Director of Policy

A recent decision by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency is a great step forward for innovative breeding methods that can help farmers address some of the world’s most urgent challenges.

The agency announced that Japan’s government will not require special labeling for products derived from plant breeding innovation, such as gene editing, that do not contain foreign DNA. Japan has a history of skepticism toward new agricultural technology. For example, it requires products that include transgenic traits be labeled as such. The Consumer Affairs Agency’s decision is important because it helps add clarity to how gene editing may be regulated and supports advanced technology development.

That is good news for agriculture in general, even more so for wheat production specifically. Unlike other major row crops in the U.S., there are no wheat varieties with commercialized GM traits. That means farmers do not have access to the seed technology that has helped others. We see this disadvantage in declining acres and in a slower pace of yield increases compared to soybeans, corn and other crops U.S. farmers can grow. Gene editing provides a safe and efficient way to make targeted improvements in new wheat varieties that respond to environmental stressors, combat plant disease, and benefit millers and consumers alike. However, these benefits are only possible when regulations are based in science rather than rooted in fear.

With changing climates, severe weather events, and perennial concerns like drought, disease, and pests, it is imperative that the world’s farmers have access to the best tools available. And this includes their seed. With those tools, we can ensure that U.S. farmers are providing the highest possible quality wheat consistently and reliably for years to come.

For more information about a growing understanding of DNA and advanced breeding methods in agriculture, and to learn how innovations such as gene editing can benefit our planet, our health and our food, visit www.innovature.com.


The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) reports that an international team of scientists has identified significant new chromosomal regions for wheat yield and disease resistance and created a freely-available collection of genetic information and markers for more than 40,000 wheat lines.

Reported recently in Nature Genetics, CIMMYT says the results will speed up global efforts to breed more productive and climate-resilient varieties of bread wheat, a critical crop for world food security that is under threat from rising temperatures, rapidly-evolving fungal pathogens, and more frequent droughts, according to Philomin Juliana, wheat scientist at CIMMYT and first author of the new study.

“This work directly connects the wheat genome reference map [published in 2018] with wheat lines and extensive field data from CIMMYT’s global wheat breeding network,” said Juliana. “That network in turn links to over 200 breeding programs and research centers worldwide and contributes to yield and other key traits in varieties sown on nearly half the world’s wheat lands.”

CIMMYT noted that the study found genomic selection could be particularly effective in breeding for wheat end-use quality and for resistance to stem rust disease, whose causal pathogen has been evolving and spreading in the form of highly-virulent new races.

Bread wheat improvement using genomic tools will be critical to accelerate genetic gains in the crop’s yield, disease resistance, and climate resilience. (Photo: Marcia MacNeil/CIMMYT)

“Farmers and societies today face new challenges to feed rising and rapidly-urbanizing populations, and wheat epitomizes the issues,” said Ravi Singh, CIMMYT wheat breeder and corresponding author of the study. “Higher temperatures are holding back yields in major wheat-growing areas, extreme weather events are common, crop diseases are spreading and becoming more virulent, and soil and water are being depleted.”

Juliana said the study results help pave the way to apply genomic selection, an approach that has transformed dairy cow husbandry, for more efficient wheat breeding.

“Molecular markers are getting cheaper to use; meanwhile, it is very costly to do field testing and selection involving many thousands of wheat plants over successive generations,” Juliana said. “Genome-wide marker-based selection can help breeders to precisely identify good lines in early breeding generations and to test plantlets in greenhouses, thereby complementing and streamlining field testing.”

The new study also documents the effectiveness of the global public breeding efforts by CIMMYT and partners, showing that improved wheat varieties from this work have accumulated multiple gene variants that favor higher yields, according to Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program.

“This international collaboration, which is the world’s largest publicly-funded wheat breeding program, benefits farmers worldwide and offers high-quality wheat lines that are released directly to farmers in countries, such as Afghanistan, that are unable to run a full-fledged wheat breeding program,” Braun explained.

The study results are expected to support future gene discovery, molecular breeding, and gene editing in wheat, Braun said.

USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics funded the study. Contributing to the research are teams engaged in wheat improvement at CIMMYT, and the lab of Jesse Poland, Associate Professor at Kansas State University and Director of the USAID Applied Wheat Genomics Innovation Lab.

Photo above: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Crop Bioprotection Research.


Wheat is a staple of diets across the world. In fact, it is the source of about 20 percent of the calories consumed worldwide. Researchers at Kansas State University are using innovative methods like gene editing to breed wheat with added benefits, including lower gluten options that could one day allow people with gluten sensitivities to enjoy bread and other wheat-based foods.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is pleased to share more information about plant breeding innovations in wheat in “Part 3 of the Plant Breeding Innovation” video series from the American Seed Trade Association and CropLife International. Click here to watch this informative presentation: https://bit.ly/2lB7zl3.

Produced by the American Seed Trade Association and CropLife International, “Breeding for Better Wheat” is next in a series on plant breeding innovations. To watch the video, visit https://bit.ly/2lB7zl3.

While the emphasis here is on innovative research associated with Kansas State University, state wheat commissions that are members of USW work closely with the Land Grant universities in their states to conduct similar public plant breeding programs. Private seed producers are also doing excellent work focused on improving both yield and functional characteristics of wheat.

USW is concerned that wheat production and harvested areas are on a long-term, downward trend around the world. Net returns per acre to farmers often favor other crops, and the differential is widening. An eventual supply and demand situation where smaller supplies of wheat are produced only in areas where more profitable alternatives do not exist will translate into supply challenges for the global food industry.

USW believes that these new technologies as well as on-going, conventional breeding methods benefit farmers, customers, and consumers, and will make positive impacts on the environment and the long-term health of U.S. agricultural land. To make this possible, USW urges the adoption of a nationally and internationally accepted definition of plant breeding innovation that clearly differentiates these methods from traditional biotechnology. The organization also advocates for international harmonization of scientific standards and trade rules.

For more information on USW’s positions on Innovation and Sustainability, visit the USW website at https://www.uswheat.org/policy/innovation-and-sustainability/.

The Genetic Literacy Project recently published this article on the role of plant breeding innovation in global wheat production: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/08/29/crispr-and-other-new-breeding-techniques-could-be-key-to-unlocking-potential-of-global-wheat-production/.