By MATTHEW WEAVER
Washington State Crop Improvement Association leaders hope to cure a potential problem before it gets out of control.
Jerry Robinson, association general manager, is seeking funding for research into the increase in the number of off-color seed kernels in some wheat varieties.
He said the problem appears most in red wheat, with an even split between winter and spring varieties.
Several hard red spring varieties in the 2009 crop showed high incidences of white seed. Testing found most varieties were true to type, but some tests revealed contamination.
The association and Washington State Department of Agriculture seed laboratory have no clear explanation for the color variations.
Robinson is seeking funding from several companies and agencies to have a graduate student work with Washington State University scientists to find a cause.
Robinson estimated the funding would be $58,000 for two years at 20 hours per week for the graduate student. He said $20,000 to $22,000 is already committed.
"Almost every breeding and seed company has been bitten by this in some form or another," Robinson said. "It's not any one specific breeding program."
The situation hasn't been an issue in the past, but as interest in hard red spring and winter wheats increases in the state, so do instances of white or light-colored wheat seeds showing up in the reds.
Robinson said the situation isn't as much of a factor elsewhere, since most states grow predominately white wheat or red wheat and don't look for white seed in red varieties.
In a case of the hard red spring wheat variety Kelse, 135 white seeds per pound turned up in the second year of production, Robinson said. Unless a variant is listed, only four seeds per pound are allowed in the certification process and the seeds would be rejected.
Testing found 99 percent of the white seeds were Kelse, Robinson said. When the same seed lot was grown again in commercial production, it came back with three white seeds per pound.
"We're trying to find a better way to more accurately grade it so (growers and seed companies) aren't hung out there trying to figure out if it's truly the variety or something else," Robinson said.
Washington Grain Commission industry representative Ty Jessup said the situation isn't an issue now. But more than 1 percent of contrasting classes of wheat would result in a discount to growers, he said.
"It's not an issue," Jessup said. "This is the first I've heard of them even testing for it or worrying about it. It's apparently quite small now because we haven't seen issues of it on our end."
Robinson said it hasn't caused a dockage problem yet, but he is concerned about possible increases. Most instances have been taken care of in house, he said, noting one company dumped several lots of seed last year.
"Right now, we're so aware of this I think the grower is pretty safe," he said.