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Grow better durum

03/21/2011 @ 10:32am

Developing durum varieties with improved disease resistance and superior milling and pasta quality is the goal of Dakota Growers Pasta Company, Inc. (DGPC). The new varieties are intended to help regional growers stay competitive and to continue supplying DGPC with top-quality durum.

The Carrington, North Dakota-based firm buys milling-grade durum primarily from producers in North Dakota and Montana. The resulting pasta products go to U.S. grocery stores and other food-service outlets. DGPC also exports some products to Canada.

But procuring good-quality durum hasn’t always been easy. After DGPC was founded in 1992, Fusarium head blight, or scab, invaded the region, rearranging the durum industry’s prospects.

“Fusarium head blight devastated the durum crop in northeast and central North Dakota,” says Brad Miller, DGPC research agronomist.

The firm built a multimillion-dollar processing facility in Carrington in 1993, when it was a producer-owned cooperative. The co-op intended to purchase durum within a 60-mile radius of the plant.

“But shortly after the plant was built, the region started getting wetter in midsummer, and Fusarium head blight began showing up in the durum,” says Miller. “Durum doesn’t tolerate head blight.”

Many area durum growers switched to hard red spring wheat. Durum acres shifted to western North Dakota and eastern Montana, but arid conditions in these areas significantly lowered production.

New varietal development

To combat the problem of diminished supply and high transportation costs, DGPC implemented its own research and varietal-development program. The goal was to develop varieties adapted to the traditional durum-growing area in north-eastern and central North Dakota.

Recently released varieties DG Star (released in 2007) and DG Max  (released in 2008) show particular promise in tolerance to scab as well as in yielding high-quality durum.

“Of all the varieties available to durum growers today, DG Star has the best Fusarium tolerance,” says Miller. “The growers who have grown it for me are pleased with the variety’s performance. We’ve had good results with it, and it makes very high-quality pasta.

“The most recently released variety, DG Max, is higher yielding than DG Star with a slightly lower level of Fusarium tolerance,” Miller adds. “Its pasta-quality attributes are not as strong as Star’s, but they’re better than those of most other varieties.”

Primo Dora and Grande Doro are two earlier varieties DGPC released in cooperation with WestBred, LLC.

Both varieties have good pasta-making attributes, and Grande Doro is particularly high yielding, given good growing conditions. “If you intensively manage Grande Doro to control Fusarium head blight, it’ll yield well and produce a product we can use at the plant,” says Miller.

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