MOSCOW — A partnership between University of Idaho and an international wheat and barley breeding company is yielding its first collaborative wheat varieties, selected for planting in the Pacific Northwest.
UI and Limagrain Cereal Seeds, which was founded in France and has its U.S. headquarters in Colorado, teamed up in 2013, three years after Limagrain entered the Pacific Northwest Market.
Thus far, Limagrain has marketed several UI varieties, significantly boosting their planted acreage. Limagrain has been returning more than $1 million per year in royalties to UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
UI and Limagrain have also pooled their breeding program resources to jointly develop new soft white winter wheat varieties.
“We were new to the area. We didn’t have our own locations and we didn’t have a lot of adapted germplasm, but what we did have was an extremely experienced team of breeders and access to technology, including rapid breeding techniques and genetic marker platforms,” explained Frank Curtis, a consultant for Limagrain.
Limagrain has benefited from UI’s team, trial plots, locally adapted germplasm and facilities in Moscow and Lewiston, which supplement the company’s area facility in Walla Walla, Washington.
Curtis said Limagrain and UI will both retain their own individual breeding programs, and Limagrain will continue marketing certain UI varieties. They’ll share royalties from the varieties they develop together, which will be sold under the new Varsity Idaho brand.
A university committee has approved the release of the first two varieties, VI Frost and VI Bulldog.
“We’ll be offering foundation seed (seed to build up the supply to support commercial sale) to local companies this year, and growers can see these two varieties in plots this summer,” Curtis said.
Curtis said Frost is resistant to major diseases of wheat, including snow mold and stripe rust. It was bred with the popular soft white wheat variety Brundage as a parent and has been a top yielding variety with good drought tolerance. It contains no beard — referring to the bristly material that protects the kernel.
He said Bulldog, developed from experimental lines, has an excellent test weight — a measure of the density of wheat kernels — and extremely thick and strong straw. In trial plots throughout the region, it’s been the highest yielding variety at under 16 inches of annual moisture and has potential under irrigation or on dry land in Southern and Eastern Idaho.
Curtis explained his company speeds up the breeding process by sending samples to its laboratory in France, where genetic markers are reviewed for the presence of specific traits.
Curtis said the partnership has seven additional promising wheat lines in the developmental pipeline. He expects two more varieties to be released next year. Five more varieties are under evaluation for possible release during the following year — all of which are Clearfield lines, developed through conventional breeding techniques to resist the active ingredient in Beyond herbicide.
The initial releases have been bred for conditions in the Palouse, which encompasses parts of northcentral Idaho and southeastern Washington.
However, Cathy Wilson, director of research collaboration with the Idaho Wheat Commission, believes both have potential to be planted in Southern and Eastern Idaho, including on dry-land farms. She said Frost, for example, is early maturing and resistant to snow mold, which poses challenges for some Eastern Idaho farmers.
“(Limagrain) has really brought the yield, genetics and the knowledge of how to identify and move a product into the market quickly,” Wilson said.
Curtis expects a UI variety Limagrain is marketing, UI Magic CL+, will be the top-planted soft white winter wheat in the Northwest this season.
“After years of being No. 3 behind the Oregon State program and the Washington State program, I predict the UI-Limagrain partnership will make UI the leading public program in the region,” Curtis said.
Growers throughout the state will have the opportunity to view the new varieties, as well as the other seven promising lines, during tours of UI research plots scheduled throughout the summer from Northern through Eastern Idaho.
“Through the partnership with Limagrain ... we have a much broader core of scientists — ours and theirs working together, using advanced techniques and using a little bit of genomics,” said Mark McGuire, associate dean and director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station. “We’re maybe at the beginning stages of some real success that has been spurred on by lines like UI Magic that Limagrain has marketed for us.”