Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, [email protected]
Contact: Dr. Amir Ibrahim, 979-845-8274, [email protected]
Dr. Jackie Rudd, 806-677-5600, [email protected]

WASHINGTON – The Texas A&M AgriLife Wheat Improvement Program was the only university-led wheat program highlighted at a National Wheat Foundation event Feb. 8 in Washington, D.C.

To educate members of Congress and their staff on just how expansive and important the entire wheat value chain is to the economy and U.S. food supply, the National Wheat Foundation hosted Wheat 102, a wheat industry educational event.

wheat breeding plots
Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeding plots at the Chillicothe station. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Phil McLain, foundation board chairman, said their goal was to give policy makers and all attendees a better understanding of how each component of the wheat value chain functions. Wheat 102 participants include multiple companies, organizations and third parties across the wheat value chain, according to the news release.

Texas A&M was the only university invited to participate. The wheat program was represented by Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeders Dr. Amir Ibrahim, College Station, and Dr. Jackie Rudd, Amarillo.

Ibrahim and Rudd said the wheat improvement program consists of many more team members, from wheat geneticists, crop physiologists, plant pathologists and cereal chemists to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists and county agents.

The two breeders shared the message to legislative members and staff how the land-grant university system provides the Texas A&M AgriLife program the unique ability to:

– Provide an integrated approach to developing broadly adapted/adopted hard red winter wheat varieties.

– Utilize classrooms, laboratories and field plots to educate the next generation of scientists who will move the wheat industry forward.

– Share knowledge with the producer and, as a result, benefit the consumer.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Wheat Improvement Program is organized into two Centers of Excellence, each conducting variety development, basic genetic studies and development of best management practices for wheat, the breeders said.

The Amarillo center targets rainfed and irrigated production in the drier areas of the state such as the High Plains and Rolling Plains of Texas. The College Station center targets the more humid regions of the state, including South Texas and the Texas Blacklands.

The two centers work together to develop some of the most widely grown wheat varieties in Texas and across the Great Plains, Rudd said.

In 2012, TAM wheat varieties were planted on 41 percent of Texas wheat acres, 20 percent in Kansas, 14 percent in Nebraska, and 11 percent in Colorado, he said, adding the most popular wheat varieties released under this team currently are TAM 111, TAM 112, TAM 114 and TAM 204.

The soil and crop sciences department in Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is one of the largest such departments in the nation, Ibrahim said. Students are trained by world-class faculty in the classroom and the field.

In partnership with AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension, these students gain research experience and are able to help transfer that new knowledge to the public, he said.

Rudd said the transfer of research knowledge is primarily done at field days and AgriLife Extension educational programs across the state, which act as “classrooms” for producers.

AgriLife Extension offers the opportunity to conduct field demonstrations of new technologies such as seed treatments, weed control, forage and grazing management, pesticide and herbicide resistance, and agronomic management practices including planting dates, seeding rates and nutrient management.

Rudd and Ibrahim in wheat field
Dr. Jackie Rudd, Amarillo, and Dr. Amir Ibrahim, College Station, are Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeders representing the program in Washington at Wheat 102. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“Helping producers manage yield and quality of wheat forage and grain are priorities of the wheat improvement team,” Rudd said. “Yield and quality can be damaged by weather stresses, overgrazing, nutrient deficiencies and pests.

“Management in the High Plains includes winter grazing of wheat by stocker cattle. The dual-purpose aspect of wheat increases management flexibility and helps stabilize economic income in areas with fluctuating climate and yields. Proper management decisions are more important than ever with today’s low profit margins.”

Ibrahim said the educational event in Washington is extremely important because wheat is the most popular human food crop in the world.

The Texas A&M wheat program includes the Texas A&M Cereal Quality Laboratory, which ensures TAM wheat varieties have the milling and baking qualities the food industry needs and the health benefits consumers demand, he said.

“This is an ideal resource to improve the nutritional quality of bread and tortillas, the primary products made from hard winter wheat,” Ibrahim said.

Another key component of the wheat program, especially moving into the future, is the collaboration of AgriLife wheat genetic scientists with the AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Service to reduce the time to develop improved wheat varieties, he said. This work utilizes marker-assisted selection, doubled-haploids, gene editing and genomic selection.

On another front, Texas A&M’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Project is providing a new perspective to help wheat farmers manage diseases and water stress, predict yield in crop-breeding programs, and measure livestock forage production.

“These new tools can unlock solutions that help farmers become more sustainable and increase profitability,” Ibrahim said.

“Our research has led to varieties with greater insect and disease resistance, excellence in milling and baking qualities, and improved adaptability and forage performance,” Rudd said.

“We have made great progress, but we will need to adapt our program to a changing environment if we are to continue feeding a growing world population. This is an invaluable opportunity for our program, as it is important to carry forward the message that meeting this challenge will require ongoing funding at the national level.”