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Selecting Spring Wheat Varieties for 2020

By: NDWC Staff & Dr. Joel Ransom
Posted: Feb 06 2020

Selecting the right variety is a critical component of profitable spring wheat production. The increased investment in private and public breeding programs has led to the development of a large number of new varieties for farmers to choose from. With so many choices, however, picking the right varieties can be challenging. Fortunately, excellent variety performance data are available from multiple locations throughout the state to guide this process. For a complete report of the performance of varieties tested in 2019 and details of their agronomic traits, see the 2019 variety performance guide
When selecting a variety, yield is usually the first characteristic that is considered by most producers, but it is also important to look at protein levels, straw strength and disease ratings. This past growing season, Bacterial Leaf Streak (BLS) was a significant problem in many regions of the state. BLS cannot be controlled by fungicides so genetic resistance is key to controlling this disease, especially if you are in a region of the state where BLS has been or could be a problem. Similarly, parts of the state were significantly impacted by Fusarium, and even though fungicides can be helpful in reducing FHB, genetic tolerance is added protection. Lodging has also been cited by producers as an important trait, so choosing varieties with adequate straw strength needs to be considered.  In the NDSU trials, varieties are evaluated for key agronomic and disease traits, and scored on a scale of 1 to 9, with lower scores better.  It is recommended to choose varieties that score 5 or lower for straw strength, BLS and FHB, to best manage problems.   

The three tables list some of the top varieties in 2019 for yield, protein and balanced traits, based on NDSU testing.  Due to the large number of varieties evaluated, varieties with unusually low protein levels, very poor disease scores, or a release date prior to 2012 were not included in this summary.  

Values listed in the tables for east and west yields reflect the specific variety’s yield in 2019, relative to the statewide average of 60.6 bushels/acres across the east, and 51.7 in the west.  Similarly, a variety’s protein difference, is shown in tenths of a point, relative to the variety’s statewide average of 15 percent.  

High protein is required for most end uses of spring wheat. It’s a primary reason HRS wheat fetches a “class price premium” over other classes of wheat, along with strong dough properties, high water absorption and big loaf volumes. In recent years, premiums for high protein and penalties for low protein have been minimal because of abundant protein in the crop, but some years the spread can be significant. 

Unfortunately, there is negative relationship between yield and protein, so it can be a struggle to maintain protein levels at 14% or above when growing the highest yielding varieties. Including high protein varieties in the farm can be a hedge against severe discounts when protein premiums/discounts are high. Another approach might be to grow varieties that are “balanced”; which have above average yield and above average protein, and also score well for straw strength, BLS and FHB.  

As can be noted in the tables, there is no one variety that has all the desirable characteristics. Therefore, diversifying your varieties can be a good strategy to hedge against production challenges. 

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