OSU offers new wheat variety to boost acreage

CORVALLIS — A new wheat variety developed at Oregon State University may help Willamette Valley farmers boost the acreage of the staple grain crop.

The new white winter wheat variety developed over the past 12 years at the OSU Hyslop Research Farm off Highway 20 has a strong yield potential, resists disease and is adapted to the valley, officials say.

"We've got a very good track record on it," said Jim Peterson, a wheat breeding and genetics professor.

But commercial production likely will not begin until next year, with seeds being planted in fall 2008, said Michael Flowers, a cereal specialist for the OSU Extension Service.

The variety, called the "Goetze" breed, is meant to be a replacement for "Foote," a variety that in 2004 represented 93 percent of the valley's 40,000 acres of wheat.

Foote acreage dropped to 1,400 acres for the Willamette Valley in 2006, after a new stripe rust hit that breed.

"It went from completely resistant to completely susceptible overnight," Peterson said of the Foote variety.

"It was devastating," added Tom Duyck of Forest Grove, the Willamette Valley representative of the Oregon Wheat Commission. Duyck said yields dropped from nearly 150 bushels per acre to less than 50 bushels in his area.

The loss of Foote, combined with low wheat prices and high grass seed prices, meant only 21,000 acres of wheat were planted in 2006 in the valley.

Flowers hopes the Goetze variety will reverse the trend. Duyck says he thinks it will, especially with strong wheat prices.

Peterson noted that a little more than two decades ago, the Willamette Valley had nearly 200,000 acres planted in wheat.

Population increases and urban sprawl took land out of production, but a switch to more grass seed is the larger factor in the wheat decline, he said.

Oregon has 900,000 acres of wheat, but most of that is east of the Cascades Range.

Most wheat from Oregon goes to make pastries, and 85 percent of that is exported. Asian countries are the biggest customers.

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