Further testing of high-yielding new wheat variety expected to determine value
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The Washington Grain Alliance has fielded calls from producers and seed dealers concerned about the quality of a new wheat variety, industry officials say.
Alliance CEO Tom Mick said farmers have asked about the quality of the soft white winter wheat variety Xerpha.
A sample of Xerpha that Washington State University submitted to the Pacific Northwest Wheat Quality Council for testing did not show very good quality, Mick said.
New university winter wheat breeder Arron Carter said a lot of grower interest in the variety lies in its high yields in a variety of precipitation zones.
AgVentures Northwest LLC CEO and Washington Grain Commission industry representative Keith Bailey said a Wheat Marketing Center study of Xerpha compared it with Eltan in the Ephrata and Packard, Wash., areas. It showed Eltan superior to Xerpha in both locations, but the Packard sample of Xerpha performed similar to Eltan.
"Geographically, the performances are quite a bit different," Bailey said.
The commission will not take a position on Xerpha until it has three years of data, he said. This will be the third year, he said.
Xerpha is listed as acceptable quality wheat, Mick said. Wheat qualities range from desirable to acceptable to least desirable.
WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences Chairman Rich Koenig said quality is not going to be uniform across different precipitation zones.
"Xerpha is grown in such a wide range of production areas that it might be a real issue with this variety," he said.
Alliance program director Mary Palmer Sullivan said a composite sample might have been more representative of Xerpha, but samples from a large variety of locations were not available at the time of the quality council testing.
Koenig said measures have been put in place to avoid another situation in which wheat varieties make it through the release process if questions of quality arise. Part of the documentation process will require a sample to be submitted to the quality council, he said.
The industry will have another Xerpha sample to look at that is more representative of the variety, Koenig said. That sample is moving forward in the quality council.
"I think it's premature to write Xerpha off completely," Koenig said. "It does rank up there with a number of other varieties grown in the region."
Samples at the University of Idaho did not show quality concerns, Carter said. Xerpha ranked lower than some other varieties, but not to a detrimental degree, he said.
A sample of Xerpha will be included in the U.S. Wheat Associates Overseas Varietal Analysis program this year, Carter said.
"That might be the make-or-break," he said. "If it has another bad year, that may be the make. If it does good, it might ease some of these concerns. We're basing a lot of this on that one-year data."
Koenig said the university will work to provide quality data on field trials regarding Xerpha to the commission by its November meeting.
The grain commission discussed the concerns about Xerpha during its meeting Sept. 17 in Spokane.
Matthew Weaver is based in Spokane. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.