Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's 6:31 p.m. Do you know where your wheat geneticist is?


If corn is king of Nebraska and soybeans in rotation is his queen, then wheat is the clever princess, waiting to ascend the throne when the groundwater runs out. And at this time of year, when corn and soybean fields are brown expanses of prickly stubble, a wheat field rolls out lush and green like the biggest lawn you've ever seen. It's all you can do to keep from wading in barefoot, flopping down, and wriggling back and forth like a dog off its leash. But I wouldn't recommend this, unless you're the farmer who planted it. In that case, knock yourself out!

I found it hard to resist running through this lush wheat field near Wilbur, Nebraska.


This past Monday, I trailed after my husband Bob Graybosch as he traveled the state "looking at wheat." As a wheat geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, this business of "looking at wheat" is a part of his job, which involves improving quality through selective breeding. He looks for and selects for traits that make wheat disease resistant and bread tastier and more nutritious, both here and in countries around the world.

But no matter how amazing these traits are, if the wheat variety can't hack it in the field, farmers won't grow it. So this past Monday, he was out looking for the winners and losers in locations near Wilbur, Clay Center, and North Platte.

Taking notes on winners and losers in wheat plots near Clay Center Nebraska.

By the way, if you're puzzling over how in May a wheat field is so far ahead of corn and soybeans, this is hard winter wheat, that clever princess that establishes herself over the harsh Nebraska winter while these other fields lie fallow. Then in midsummer, when corn and soybeans are desperately waiting to get a drink from the center pivot, winter wheat has already matured and is ready for harvest!

Only at North Platte did we see wheat heading. Look closely and you will see the wheat flowers peeking out!