Printed on: July 26, 2013

UI shows off new crops

Growers get a look at new strains of barley, wheat and potatoes

By NATE SUNDERLAND
nsunderland@postregister.com

TETONIA -- University of Idaho agronomists are developing new strains of barley, wheat and potatoes that promise higher yields and are better able to fend off disease.

University researchers, as well as geneticists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, showcased their work Thursday during a Field Day at UI's Tetonia Research Station and the Ashton "Grain Tour."

A large group of growers also attended the events.

Paris Penfold , a seed potato and barley grower from Driggs, was among them.

"We have to decide if there are better varieties (of barley) which will grow in higher elevations and give us a better yield," he said. "We are always looking for something that might make us a little more money."

The Tetonia Research Station and Ashton research plots are unique among University of Idaho extension centers because of their atypical growing environments.

"This research station gives us a unique opportunity to explore how crops grow in higher altitudes and in a shorter growing season environment," said Phil Nolte, university extension seed potato specialist. "There is also very low disease pressure ... so (growing new varieties here) is one of the best ways to avoid propagating viruses."

As a result, nearly every new potato variety developed in the Pacific Northwest is tested in Tetonia, university officials said.

The Field Day served as a backdrop for the Idaho Barley Commission to announced a five-year, $1 million endowment. The money will enable the university to hire a barley agronomist in Aberdeen, who will work with Idaho growers and coordinate all barley research in the state.

"Barley is a very important crop to Idaho, but nationwide the crop is falling out of favor with growers compared to corn and soybeans, so there is a lot of pressure to improve barley's performance and profitability," Barley Commission vice chairman Pat Purdy, said.

Idaho is the nation's leading barley producer. The crop generated more than $300 million for Idaho growers in 2012.

Interim UI President John Foltz and College of Agricultural and Life Science Dean Donn Thill accepted the endowment. Foltz promised the university's full support for the new position.

"We need someone who will get up in the morning and think about this stuff all day," Foltz said. "So, we will continue to support this faculty position (beyond the endowment) ... this will become a permanent position."

The highlight of the Ashton Grain Tour was the new "UI Stone" -- a soft spring wheat developed by university wheat breeder Jianli Chen. The new strain produces high yields and flour superior to more traditional varieties.

It also is increasingly resistant to stripe rust, a common wheat disease, and fusarium head blight, a disease rare to Idaho with devastating consequences. Head blight has moved into eastern Idaho wheat fields in recent years due to the increased planting of corn, which carries the disease.

"This year we are seeing a lot of stripe rust in our spring wheat and more and more problems with head blight," UI cereal grains specialist Juliet Marshall said. "... We felt it was important to let growers know which of the new varieties of wheat would perform well against those pathogens."