Across the country, ARS scientists who work with wheat aim to make U.S.-grown grain better all the time. It’s not an easy job. Techniques for successfully slipping new genes into crops like tomatoes or petunias typically don’t work on wheat.
But years’ worth of efforts have brought about many hard-won victories. A yardstick for our wheat-breeding success is the popularity of the new varieties we’ve come up with.
One variety alone accounts for most of the soft red winter wheat that’s grown in the Eastern United States. Why? Because it stands up to wheat’s most destructive disease, leaf rust.
Other varieties have amazed even dubious wheat farmers by resisting the Hessian fly and cereal leaf beetle, two costly insect pests. This wheat-breeding program is conducted in cooperation with Purdue and Kansas State Universities.
And we expect more progress in the future. The wheat plants of tomorrow may be genetically tailored quickly and easily to yield more nutritious flour or more effectively fend off insects and disease, now that ARS scientists have found shortcuts for shuttling new genes into wheat embryos.
Growers can increase their expertise, thanks to an ARS-developed computer program called MoreCrop. At the touch of a few buttons, a grower can get customized advice on diseases to watch out for and treatments that are appropriate to specific conditions. USDA photo by Scott Bauer.