Washington State University Warn Against Wheat Crisis


There’s something rotten in Washington, and it has something to do with wheat.

Months ago, Washington State had to deal with a virus decimating their potato crops, but with help of the Washington State University, producers and farmers were able to prevent the spread of the virus.

Just recently, though, there has been a report on an alarming rise of low quality in wheat across the state, and it’s related to the change in the climate.

There is poor quality of flour, brought by drastic changes in temperature or rain coming in before harvest season. To help wheat growers, the Washington State University is coming up with plans to ensure the production of high-quality wheat, with a lot more variety.

WSU Wheat Research

WSU wheat research, with support and funding from the Washington Grain Commission, screen the wheat for susceptibility to low quality.

Camille Steber, a wheat geneticist from the US Department of Agriculture, together with her colleagues at WSU published a research project on the susceptibility of a variety of wheat across the country.

The weather change in July was what alerted the WSU to a problem in wheat growth. They had observed the rain and temperature during the last few months, and when the wheat was harvested, they knew something was not right.

Steber said that their lab has seen rising numbers of low wheat quality in all eight of their testing locations. “That’s bad,” she said. “That means the problem is widespread.”

The problem had been around in 2011 and 2013, with dips in number of high quality for the last few years. WSU researchers reported that the problem could potentially worsen summer of this year.

Mike Pumphrey, one of the WSU researchers and a wheat geneticist, said that most of the wheat they had investigated could be “below industry standard”.

Although most of the wheat they used was from the winter harvest, Pumphrey said that they expect spring wheat to also be affected and in poor quality. This year, there appears to be “low falling numbers” found in the wheat crops.

Low falling numbers” is the term the researchers use in a gravity test that assesses the starch damage in the flour. According to the scientists this damage is caused by alpha-amylase, a protein enzyme, which has an effect on the crops’ quality when it’s time for baking.

If the flour has too much of the ɑ-Amalyse, it will produce bread or cake that will either easily crumble or fail to rise.

The enzyme can usually be found in the sprout grain, but when there’s too much rain right before harvest (like what had happened to the wheat this season), the sprout could grow on the stalk.

Low falling numbers can also happen in non-sprouted grain. This is called the LMA (late-maturity alpha-amalyse), which comes to be because of the constantly changing temperature. This is what wheat growers witnessed during the last two months.

The problem is, many of the wheat crops in the north, east, and south have yet to be harvested. They will most likely exhibit low falling numbers in their grains.

Because of this, Steber urged the farmers to harvest quickly in order to salvage their crops. The threshold for the quality is 300, but the falling numbers of the crops are dropping quickly to below 200.

Other WSU researchers and wheat breeders, Arron Carter and Kim Garland-Campbell, are in charge of choosing the wheat crops that are less susceptible to LMA, and will stand a better chance of growing to a good, high quality.

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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