Stephen A. Harrison, Kelly Arceneaux, Henry J. “Rick” Mascagni and Boyd Padgett
The LSU AgCenter small-grain breeding program was initiated in 1985 when research priorities shifted from variety testing and production practices to genetics and variety development. The first wheat crosses were made in the field during March 1985, at the Perkins Road Farm in Baton Rouge, current site of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Plant breeding is a long-term process that requires significant inputs of labor and other resources. Successful plant breeding programs develop unique collections of genetic material that contain a myriad of genes necessary to address the environmental and and biotic (diseases and insects) factors that limit success of a variety in a specific location. These genes are then re-combined through crossing, and the resulting progeny are purified and tested across multiple environments to identify those lines that are worthy of release. This sequence takes about 10 years to complete. Each year, a new set of 10-year experiments is initiated to evaluate and advance progeny from new crosses made between elite parents.
As these cycles of recombination and selection occur, the germplasm pool is refined and improved – the longer a breeding program is active, the more successful it should be; and conversely, any disruptions in the program have a ripple effect that takes years to overcome.
As is typical with new plant breeding programs, the AgCenter program went through a 13-year period of development and maturation before the first variety release in 1998. Since then, the AgCenter has released 10 wheat and oat varieties. These varieties are grown across the Gulf Coast and contribute significantly to farm income. For example, the AgCenter-developed variety Teral LA841 was the most widely grown wheat variety in Louisiana during the 2005-06 season. This variety has excellent yield and disease resistance, which increases income and lowers production costs for producers. Two other AgCenter varieties, AGS 2060 and Terral LA482, are new wheat varieties that performed well in 2006 and should be commercially available in the summer of 2007.
(This article was published in the fall 2006 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)