Rust resistance makes club wheat attractive
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Washington farmers may continue to plant club wheat even without the price premiums because of its resistance to stripe rust, industry representatives say.
Club wheat is a subclass of soft white wheat. The head is more compact than normal classes of wheat, giving it a clubbed appearance.
Club wheat is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest and blended with soft white wheat to make western white wheat for customers in Japan and Taiwan. Western white wheat is a blend of 80 percent soft white wheat and 20 percent club wheat.
In the past, fluctuating supplies of club wheat created price premiums ranging from a few cents to more than 30 cents a bushel higher than soft white wheat.
In the last few years, there's been an oversupply of club wheat and no premium, but USDA Agricultural Research Service research geneticist Kim Campbell believes farmers continue to grow it for its stripe rust resistance.
"There's a lot of interest in club, I know that," she said.
Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires doesn't expect the price premium for club wheat to return any time soon. Demand is stable, and acreage has been fairly stable, he said.
Club wheat typically accounts for 10-12 percent of the total wheat acreage in the region, with Washington producing about 80-85 percent of total club wheat acres. In 2011, roughly 279,000 acres of club wheat were planted in the Pacific Northwest.
Last year a little more club wheat was planted in higher rainfall zones, Squires said. He doesn't expect a similar increase this year, except for farmers who observed their neighbors experiencing some success with club and deciding to try it.
Campbell's variety Cara maintained resistance during stripe rust outbreaks in 2011 and 2012.
All wheat breeders are working on stripe rust resistance, but the pathogen mutates and overcomes existing resistance, Campbell said. That requires new resistance genes and combinations to stay ahead.
Campbell believes the ARS screening processes provide an advantage. When she releases a line, there's a lot of data through the years and for various locations.
"I think we can be reasonably sure the resistance will hold up," she said.
Campbell's new club variety, Crescent, is more adapted to drier regions and new variety Crystal is adapted to wetter regions. They're intended to replace Bruehl and Cara acres. They both yield "significantly" better, Campbell said, but Bruehl still has a snow-mold resistance advantage.
Growers should be able to access foundation seed for Crystal in the fall. Crescent was released in the fall of 2012. Certified seed is still several years away, Campbell said.
Campbell expects to release new clubs every few years, maintaining high end-use quality for overseas customers and yields competitive with soft white wheats.
"We're working very hard on maintaining this strong disease resistance package," she said.
Some growers consider club wheat lines something they can plant without worrying about it, Campbell said.
"I've heard people say the premium is built into the wheat because you don't have to put fungicide on it," she said.