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Iconic breeder writes the book on club wheat

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Retired USDA Agricultural Research Service wheat breeder Bob Allan recently self-published a book devoted to club wheat, a key sub-class of soft white wheat.

PULLMAN, Wash. — Called an icon among Pacific Northwest wheat breeders, Bob Allan wrote the book on club wheat, a sub-class of soft white wheat vital to the region’s farmers.

Now he has published it.

Allan recently published “Club Wheat,” which focuses on its rich history and research on the wheat, which is unique to the Pacific Northwest.

The head of club wheat is more compact than other classes, giving it a clubbed appearance. It has less gluten and is blended with soft white wheat to make western white wheat to meet the needs of overseas customers on the Pacific Rim. Western white wheat is typically a blend of 80 percent soft white wheat and 20 percent club wheat and is used in cakes, cookies and pastries.

Washington state, with 230,000 acres, accounts for 77 percent of the entire U.S. club wheat crop, according to the USDA. The rest is produced in Oregon and Idaho.

Allan was a USDA Agricultural Research Service wheat breeder for 39 years. He retired in 1996, and is now an adjunct crop scientist, still coming in to his office on the Washington State University campus in Pullman.

Allan intended his book for both researchers and farmers.

“The story had never been put together,” he said. Club wheat was originally brought to the Northwest from Chile, Mexico and California.

At one point, farmers in a dozen states grew club wheat, although it was not as high-quality as it is now, Allan said.

Club wheat dropped from more than 50 percent of production in the region to as low as 5 percent. It now accounts for about 10 percent of the region’s production, Allan said.

Allan was hired as a geneticist to work with renowned USDA wheat breeder Orville Vogel. Vogel elected to focus on soft white wheat, and Allan focused on club wheat.

With Vogel, Allan worked to identify the genes that produced the important semi-dwarf trait in wheat, said Rich Koenig, associate dean and director of WSU Extension. Allan also developed the soft white winter wheat variety Madsen, Koenig said, calling him “one of the pioneers and leaders in an exciting time for the industry and science.”

“He moved club forward by incorporating multi-gene stripe rust resistance and preserving club’s unique quality attributes,” Koenig said.

Allan’s accomplishments continue to influence wheat breeding programs today, Koenig said. Madsen is still a valuable variety and breeding stock for its “nearly unmatched” combination of resistance to six or more diseases.

“Bob is truly an icon in the wheat world,” said Kim Kidwell, executive associate dean of academic programs for WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and a former spring wheat breeder. “Bob is one of the premiere wheat geneticists of all times, and his efforts in gene discovery and gene deployment were instrumental in making wheat production profitable in Washington state and around the world.”

Current USDA wheat breeder Kim Campbell and WSU wheat breeders are working on club wheat, but Allan sees a need for even more research, calling it “the Cadillac of soft white wheats — the best there is.”

“If we’re one of the only places that can grow it, we should focus on that,” he said.

Allan and his daughter Robin printed 100 copies of the 31-chapter book.

Now that it has been published, he intends to cut back, but said he still experiments with wheat on a portion of the 158-acre farm he rents out.

To order a copy

To purchase “Club Wheat,” send a name, mailing address and $35 payment to Bob Allan’s daughter, Robin Allan, 3202 Old Moscow Road, Pullman, WA 99163-9785.



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