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K-State to lead research in winter wheat

Gannett Kansas

MANHATTAN – The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture has selected Kansas State University to serve as a center for efforts to improve U.S. winter wheat varieties.

The university recently received $1 million to establish the International Wheat Yield Partnership’s Winter Wheat Breeding Innovation Hub. K-State will lead the effort to evaluate research findings from several IWYP projects that contribute to “significantly improved” wheat yields, according to officials.

Hub partners will seek ways to stack – or combine -- desirable traits from those projects into elite winter wheat varieties for U.S. growers. Desirable traits may include genetic improvements that make winter wheat more resistant to pests, disease or drought, thus improving its yield potential.

Eduard Akhunov, a K-State wheat geneticist and the project’s principal investigator, said that stacking desirable traits (called trait packages) in wheat varieties helps researchers “deliver key yield traits to U.S. growers as quickly as possible to reverse the declining trend of winter wheat acreage, and add significant economic value to the U.S. and global wheat industries.”

Akhunov said the hub is a public-private partnership between national and international wheat breeding programs, government organizations and industry.

“Grain yields are critical for global food security,” he said. “State wheat growers and commodity groups consider increasing grain yield at the farm level as one of the main priorities for the industry.”

Akhunov said members of the new hub will test findings from IWYP projects to build trait packages for higher-yielding winter wheat, which refers to varieties that are planted in the fall and harvested in late spring or early summer.