April 2016 WL.PVB

Tougher quality standards sting varieties

2016 Preferred Wheat Varieties

With the Pacific Northwest (PNW) aiming to be the quality capital of the wheat world, the Washington Grain Commission (WGC) and the Idaho and Oregon wheat commissions, tightened down the equation used to rank soft white winter wheat varieties that appear in the Preferred Variety Brochure (PVB).

The change means the category which didn’t have a single “Least Desirable” variety in the 2015 PVB, now has four: Xerpha, released by Washington State University (WSU); WB 456, released by WestBred/Monsanto; SY107, released by Syngenta; and Tubbs06, released by Oregon State University. The lowest of the four categories, “Least Desirable” varieties “have displayed low-quality characteristics for this class of wheat and may have one or more flaws in quality.” This means “the intrinsic quality of PNW wheat will be improved if these varieties are not planted.”

The highest quality category is “Most Desirable”, followed by “Desirable” and “Acceptable”. There are 39 soft white winter varieties listed in the PVB, of which 12 are in the first rank, another 12 in the second rank and 11 in the third rank. The breakpoint in quality scores between “Acceptable” and “Desirable” was also raised, with several varieties falling from Desirable to Acceptable.

The Agricultural Research Service’s Western Wheat Quality Lab (WWQL), based on WSU’s Pullman campus, evaluates varieties for three years before they are included in the PVB. Six components are used in the evaluation. Ten percent of the score is assigned to a variety’s test weight and protein, while milling attributes receive 30 percent of the focus. The heavy hitter is end-use functionality where 60 percent of a variety’s score is assigned.

In 2015, more than 126,000 acres of Xerpha were planted in Eastern Washington, 30,500 acres of SY107 and 11,000 acres of WB456 out of 1.35 million acres of soft white winter. Glen Squires, CEO of the WGC, said the goal of the quality brochure is to raise the aggregate end-use quality of the soft white winter class incrementally over time. When varieties have similar agronomic characteristics, growers are encouraged to choose the better quality variety.

“The Pacific Northwest cannot compete as the least-cost producer of wheat in the world, but we can compete as the highest-quality producer of wheat. Soft white winter is the flagship wheat class of the PNW and ensuring its quality is the highest possible is the responsibility of our entire industry,” he said.

The initiative to tighten down the soft white winter specifications came out of a collaboration of commissioners in the three states. In what was nearly a year-long process, not only did the Northwest commissions agree to the tougher standards, so did the Pacific Northwest Wheat Quality Council, which includes breeders from private and public breeding programs, overseas and domestic millers, WWQL staff and commissioners. The last stop before releasing the new standards included a presentation before the U.S. Wheat Associates board.

Aside from growing better varieties, Mike Miller, chairman of the WGC, said he hopes the tougher standards convey a message to customers that “the Pacific Northwest goes above and beyond our competitors when it comes to ensuring customers get the best quality available.”

Now that the whip has been cracked with regard to soft white winter wheat varieties, Squires expects the three commissions will want to continue to look for ways to improve quality across the board.

“When it comes to selling wheat, the Pacific Northwest’s ace in the hole is quality. To mix metaphors, that’s one ball we don’t want to take our eye off of,” he said.