Wheat and oat breeder Stephen Harrison discusses new varieties at the 2022 LSU AgCenter wheat, oat and cover crop field day at the Tom H. Scott Research, Extension and Education Center in Winnsboro on April 20. Photo by Johnny Morgan
High wheat prices have spurred many Louisiana producers to take an interest in planting the grain crop in 2022.
Producers planted 14,000 acres of wheat in Louisiana in 2019, according to AgCenter statistics, and LSU AgCenter wheat breeder Stephen Harrison expects that number to rise substantially this year as wheat prices rose from $6 per bushel last year to more than $10 for much of 2022.
Harrison has taken numerous calls from farmers and consultants inquiring about the best varieties for their acreages in 2022.
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in wheat varieties right now because wheat prices are at an all-time high due to the Ukraine situation and drought in the (American) West and a number of issues,” he said.
Harrison has spent 37 harvest seasons at the AgCenter working to improve wheat varieties. He has collaborated with breeders and research programs in other Southern states through SunGrains, a seven-university wheat breeding cooperative that shares resources and royalties from seed sales.
Last year AgSouth Genetics released AGS 3022, a new wheat variety developed by Harrison’s team using methods that can bring new wheat varieties to market more quickly.
“It is a very good variety for all of Louisiana,” Harrison said. “It is a little bit on the early side, but not nearly as early as some we have released. It did very well in north and south Louisiana this year and was also the highest-yielding variety in the soft wheat trials in Texas.”
The variety has excellent test weight and very high yields, he said. It also has a strong resistance to stripe rust and to fusarium head blight, or scab.
“Scab is our biggest nemesis and what we spend a large proportion of our resources on,” Harrison said.
In most cases, new wheat varieties take 10 years to develop from the time breeders first make a cross between existing lines to the day the seed becomes available for farmers.
“That’s because it takes five or six generations of self-pollination to purify the line from the time you make the cross,” Harrison said. “Then it takes another three to four years of yield trials across the region to know that it’s worth releasing. After that it is increasing the seed and getting it to commercial quantities.”
However, AGS 3022 was released in six years. Harrison and his team used a time-saving procedure, the double haploid methodology, which is a breeding shortcut used in some cases to speed up the process.
“We can’t do that with our entire breeding program because it’s a very expensive process,” Harrison said. “It would take an additional half a million dollars to do that on every cross we make, but we do choose a few high-priority crosses each year.”
Another new variety developed through traditional breeding methods may see a release date later this year. Currently named LA 13154, the cross was made in 2013.
“It’s been very, very high yielding,” Harrison said. “It did exceptionally well in the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) uniform regional trial across 14 or 15 states last summer.”
The variety is being prepared for release with a large seed increase at Georgia Foundation Seed in Plains, Georgia, Harrison said.
In the next year, changes are coming to the SunGrains cooperative, Harrison said. Paul Murphy, a breeder with North Carolina State University and a major contributor to SunGrains, is retiring in 2023. A breeder at Clemson University in South Carolina will take over much of his research and the genetic material Murphy has developed, Harrison said. Kyle Peveto