New wheat variety honors student

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

A new soft white winter wheat variety released by the University of Idaho and Washington State University honors a deceased UI graduate and breeding program worker who recognized "the magic of one little seed," his father said.

GENESEE, Idaho — The University of Idaho is releasing a wheat variety named in honor of a UI graduate who died unexpectedly last year.

The soft white winter wheat variety UI-WSU Huffman is the first joint release between UI and Washington State University.

It is a joint release because it resulted from a cross between Bruneau, a UI cultivar developed by former UI wheat breeder Bob Zemetra, now at Oregon State University, and a wheat breeding line developed at Washington State University by former winter wheat breeder Stephen Jones, now director of WSU’s Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon, Wash.

The variety offers good yield results in dryland areas and resistance to cephalosporium stripe and yellow stripe rust.

It will be licensed by and marketed exclusively by Limagrain Cereal Seeds, according to UI.

Limagrain chief operating officer Frank Curtis said a small amount of registered seed will be released in the fall, and certified seed will be available for growers in 2015.

The variety was named for former UI student Brad Huffman, who died in his sleep June 2013 at 22. Huffman worked for UI’s canola and mustard breeding program.

His father, Doug Huffman said the “tremendous honor” of having the wheat variety named for his son comes with mixed feelings.

“We certainly would much rather he was here breeding new varieties than suddenly at the end of his life and have a variety named after him,” he said.

Brad did a lot of work helping to maintain the university’s wheat breeding program while the wheat breeder position was vacant and no one else was available, making key plant crosses in the greenhouse, while also attending school full-time, Doug said.

The Huffmans have long used land on their Cavendish, Idaho, farm for UI field trials, so Brad grew up interested in plant breeding and genetics.

“He was making crosses out in the garden between pumpkins and squash when he was in junior high and high school,” he said. “Brad recognized the magic of one little seed.”

“We had zumpkins,” mother Julie recalled with a laugh. “Zucchini pumpkins.”

Normally, part of the royalties for every bushel of seed of Huffman would go to the breeder and to the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, but those will now go to the Bradley Huffman Scholarship for Plant Breeding and Plant Sciences.

“Hopefully, Brad’s efforts can have an impact for many years,” Doug Huffman said.

Brad Huffman died unexpectedly of natural causes. The autopsy indicated almost nothing — it was likely some sort of cardiac problem, Doug Huffman said.

The Huffmans found photos taken by Brad in his final days, including of the variety that would be named for him, Doug Huffman said.

The release of the variety was announced during a field day that showcased the partnership between the university and Limagrain. The partnership allows UI access to Limagrain’s global germplasm network.

Also during the field day, Limagrain wheat breeder Jean-Bruno Beaufumé walked participants through the joint wheat variety development program.

Use of doubled haploid technology — breeding with two identical sets of genes to avoid variation among progeny — reduces the amount of time it takes to develop a variety from roughly eight years to roughly six, Beaufumé said.

The technology also allows the program to speed up the genetic advantage as time progresses, Beaufumé said.

Limagrain is committed to end-use quality and making sure what it delivers to the industry is acceptable for the market, said Limagrain Cereal Seeds vice president of research Jim Peterson.


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