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Labs Play Key Role in Developing Tomorrow’s Wheats

By Linda McGraw
May 11, 1999

When sixth-graders tour the Soft Wheat Quality Laboratory of the Agricultural Research Service in Wooster, Ohio, food technologist Charles S. Gaines tells them he’s working on wheat flour that may be used in their wedding cakes. That’s because it takes 8 to 14 years to breed a new commercial wheat variety. ARS is the USDA’s chief scientific agency.

Before growers receive a new wheat variety, ARS researchers at four wheat quality laboratories have thoroughly analyzed thousands of experimental breeding lines from federal, state, and private sources. Out of 2,000 samples, only one or two may eventually become commercial varieties.

The scientists at all four ARS quality labs evaluate how each wheat line or variety performs in milling and baking trials so breeders can make the best choices. When breeders are really serious about a wheat variety and are close to releasing it, the ARS quality laboratory personnel perform the final test: they bake bread and cookies and make noodles and spaghetti.

Sometimes breeders can’t supply enough flour samples from their experimental lines to perform adequate baking tests. So ARS baker Margo S. Caley at the Hard Winter Wheat Quality Laboratory in Manhattan, Kan., devised thimble-sized baking pans that hold tiny bread loaves. The small loaves require only two tablespoons of flour.

ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory researchers in Pullman, Wash., are conducting the biggest research effort on waxy wheat in North America through a cooperative research and development agreement with a major food company. Starch from waxy wheat absorbs and retains more water than does normal starch.

ARS researchers at the Hard Red Spring and Durum Wheat Quality Laboratory in Fargo, N.D., are transferring glutenin protein genes from bread wheat to durum to develop dual-purpose bread and pasta varieties that may sell at more stable prices.

The May issue of Agricultural Research magazine contains an overview of research at the ARS quality laboratories. The article can also be found on the world wide web at


Scientific contact: Okkyung Kim Chung, ARS Grain Marketing Research and Production Center, Manhattan, Kan., phone (785) 776-2703, fax (785) 776-2792,; Patrick L. Finney, ARS Soft Wheat Quality Research Laboratory, Wooster, Ohio, phone (330) 263-3890, fax (330) 263-3658,; Craig F. Morris, ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory, Pullman, Wash., phone (509) 335-8573, fax (509) 335-8573,; Gary A. Hareland, ARS Hard Red Spring and Durum Wheat Quality Lab, Fargo, N.D., phone (701) 239-1340, fax (701) 239-1369,