Husker wheat researchers are pursuing a range of innovations

· 4 min read

Husker wheat researchers are pursuing a range of innovations

The sun shines over a wheat field.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

In the lab and in the field, Husker scientists are building on the university’s wheat research legacy through a range of innovations.

Those advances include upcoming wheat varieties, innovations via on-farm research, and greater use of crop simulations via computer modeling. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln also will launch ongoing research activity into triticale and barley, supplementing the longtime breeding program in those grains and offering potential carryover benefits for Nebraska wheat science and production.

“One of things I absolutely love as the wheat breeder at UNL is that we have such a great interdisciplinary research community, such a great system of researchers across the state,” said Katherine Frels, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture.

“We have some really good lines coming up in the program with herbicide resistance,” she said. “We have some new Clearfield wheat varieties coming out hopefully in the next year.”

Amanda Easterly, a research assistant professor in the university’s High Plains Agricultural Lab in Sidney, is also working with Frels to develop wheat varieties to help address the threat from wheat stem sawfly.

Husker research efforts benefit greatly from close coordination with Nebraska wheat producers through on-farm research, Frels said. Producers “allow us to plant really large research trials on their farms,” she said. “So we get to select brand-new varieties in a farmer-managed system, and producers get that real-life look at the up-and-coming varieties and share their feedback with us.”

In addition, Husker researchers will make greater use of computer modeling, which produces dynamic simulations of crop development, to strengthen the development of new varieties that can cope with drought and heat stress.

The university’s broad range of partners across the state provides a solid foundation for wheat research advances, Frels said. “My favorite thing about working at UNL is that I get to work with a lot of wonderful researchers, a lot of really wonderful producers and Extension agents, as well as my industry colleagues. Everyone is comfortable working with one another in Nebraska, and that’s what makes it so much fun.”

Another major step will be the start of Husker research into triticale and winter barley, supplementing the breeding work in those grains begun decades ago by John Schmidt, the university’s first small-grains breeder. The initiative may advance both research and long-term faculty development, Frels said.

“I have some great graduate students on my team now who are helping me to develop research objectives within triticale and barley, and we actually think they’re going to be informative for the wheat project, as well,” Frels said. “For example, triticale is more resistant to wheat streak mosaic virus than wheat is, and we don’t know why. But if we can figure it out in triticale, is there a way we can use that resistance from triticale in wheat?”

That research work will be a collaboration among Husker researchers, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, and scientists in Kansas and industry.

“Our barley program is actually operated by two Ph.D. students,” Frels said, “so they make a lot of the decisions with my help, which is a fantastic training ground. We get to train the next generation of breeders in a very hands-on program. How many other universities have a breeding program led by graduate students? They get to think about their own research objectives. They get to say: ‘OK, this is a tool we really need to integrate. How can I work with Dr. Frels to do that?’”

The barley research also could connect long term with the needs of Nebraska’s brewers. “We’re trying to find new opportunities for Nebraska producers by adding in some malting barley” to Husker research, Frels said. With beverage sales now approved for Pinnacle Bank Arena, she said, could “we someday have a Nebraska-grown barley in that beer?”

Larry Flohr, a Deuel County wheat producer and certified seed producer, is a longtime observer of Husker wheat research and its benefits for producers. He appreciates the dedication of Husker researchers to continue with innovations, building on the work of their university predecessors.

“They’re not sitting on their laurels,” he said. “They’re still working hard, and I appreciate all the impact that they’ve had on Nebraska wheat.”

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