Open house heralds Kansas wheat innovation center

Photo Kansas Wheat Commission Wheat plants sprout in the greenhouse of the new Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan, Kan. An open house will herald the new center April 26. Kansas Wheat Commission director of communications Bill Spiegel says center researchers will collaborate with Kansas Wheat University and provide doubled haploid plants for hire to other labs and land-grant universities.

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

The new Kansas Wheat Innovation Center is designed to get new wheat varieties into farmers' hands faster.

The Kansas Wheat Commission hosts a ribbon cutting and open house for the center April 26.

The $10.3 million center features 15,000 square feet of laboratory space and 10,000 square feet of greenhouses, to develop new hard red winter wheat varieties.

Kansas farmers fight evolving strains of diseases like rust and powdery mildew every year, said Bill Spiegel, director of communications for the Manhattan, Kan.-based commission.

"We're going to be able to fight diseases faster now," he said. "(We'll) be a lot more proactive in our ability to develop varieties that can withstand the new races of the pathogens that affect wheat."

In Kansas, wheat has not received the kind of investment reserved for corn or soybeans, Spiegel said, and has struggled to maintain acreage.

The commission built the 35,000-square foot center through the 1.5 cent-per-bushel checkoff program. The center was built on Kansas State University land. The commission has a 50-year least on the property.

The commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers developed a for-profit company, Heartland Plant Innovations (HPI). The company uses the doubled haploid process to get wheat varieties to researchers and the market quicker.

HPI aims to produce 50,000 doubled haploid plants per year, Spiegel said.

The company develops doubled haploids for hire, receiving orders from around the world from seed companies or land-grant universities that cannot afford the technology on their own.

"A lot of our land-grant universities just don't have a way to implement a doubled-haploid laboratory like some of the private companies have," Spiegel said.

Spiegel said the company intends to collaborate with Kansas State University, including housing part of KSU's wheat genomics and resource center. It's possible the company could work with Pacific Northwest researchers, he said.

"We're trying to continue to develop momentum in wheat breeding," he said. "We fully intend to bring aboard new projects. It's our dream that we will continue to find new technologies. We fully anticipate it will be positive for the entire wheat industry."

The commission could begin to also explore sorghum, Spiegel said.

The commission will continue its support for university research at the same level, Spiegel said.

"Our main priority is to make sure we have a solid land-grant university breeding program," he said, noting there is laboratory space for university researchers to work with HPI.

Yield remains a top priority for farmers, Spiegel said. Quality is also important in order to export wheat to other countries, and projects will include combating pests and diseases.

The commission staff moved into the building in November 2012. The building includes research and testing of products, with a test kitchen. The commission employs a nutrition educator, who is currently finalizing bread recipes for a national baking contest, Spiegel said.

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