In 20 years, the LSU AgCenter’s small-grains breeding program has grown from nothing to being the source of the most widely planted wheat variety in Louisiana.
“Breeding is a long-term process,” said LSU AgCenter plant breeder Steve Harrison. “It takes 12 to 14 years from crossing to growers being able to harvest a variety derived from that cross.”
Harrison, who heads the small-grains breeding program, came to the AgCenter in 1984 to start the program that has produced three new oat varieties and three new wheat varieties since 1997 with more in the pipeline.
Harrison said the AgCenter breeding program depends on the Louisiana Soybean and Grain Research and Promotion Board for much of its funding. “The varieties that have come out of the program are also generating some royalties that are being reinvested in the breeding program and AgCenter research programs,” he said.
The first releases were oat varieties in 1997 – Buck Forage LA604 sold for deer feed plots and Secretariat LA495. A third oat, Plot Spike LA9339, was released in 2003 and is widely used for wildlife food plots. The wheat breeding program released LA422 in 1998, 841 in 2002 and LA9560 in 2004. LA422 and LA841 are marketed by Terral Seed Co. of Lake Providence, and LA9560 will be marketed by marketed by AgSouth Genetics as AGS 2060.
LA841 is the most widely grown wheat variety in Louisiana for 2005, Harrison said.
“It’s important to have a Louisiana breeding program because our climate is unique,” Harrison said. “We look at high yield, high test weight, good quality, good standability, disease resistance and adapatation to our climate.”
The program has about 7,000 yield plots and 50,000 headrows planted for 2005.
The plant breeder said Louisiana wheat faces high disease pressures because of climate. And a new wheat disease, stripe rust, found its way to the Gulf region about six years ago from the Pacific Northwest.
“As much as anything else, we develop wheat varieties resistant to disease pressures we experience,” Harrison said.
“We have over a dozen important diseases,” he said. He ticks them off – stripe rust, leaf rust, stem rust, two septoria diseases, fusarium, black chaff and “two or three viruses.”
Harrison said wheat provides Louisiana farmers with cash flow in spring and early summer. It also contributes to conservation tillage and provides winter cover crops.
(This article appeared in the summer 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)