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Hard white wheat outlook improves

Agriculture.com Staff 06/01/2011 @ 11:39am

Consumers like it. Millers like it. Foreign buyers would like more of it. But U.S. wheat growers have been reluctant to expand their hard white wheat acres.

Many haven’t forgotten what happened the last time hard white wheat grabbed headlines. Growers who took a chance on the new crop found meeting the protein requirements difficult. Even if protein levels met a buyer’s specifications, producers couldn’t get the wheat to that buyer because country elevators didn’t want to handle a low-volume class of wheat that had to be segregated.

But that was 25 years ago, and times have changed.

Chris Cullan’s family passed on the chance to grow hard white wheat when it first came to western Nebraska in the 1980s, but they added hard white to their crop rotation five years ago. Early varieties just didn’t yield as well as the hard red varieties growers were accustomed to.

During the intervening years, wheat breeders worked to eliminate yield drag and to improve end-use quality traits.

“Yield pays,” says Cullan. “The first thing any producer looks at when choosing a variety is yield and the ability to turn that bushel into dollars.”

Gordon Gallup, who farms near Ririe in eastern Idaho, agrees. He has grown hard white wheat nearly every year over a decade. Yield drag has not been an issue on his dryland farm, but he has seen his neighbors with irrigated land struggle with hard white varieties when they try to plant after harvesting potatoes or sugar beets.

While growing hard white mimics growing hard red, fertility management is key. Most hard white end users want at least 12% protein. Top-dressing with nitrogen (N) at flowering is critical to reaching that goal, says Juliet Windes, a University of Idaho Extension cereal specialist. N application amounts depend on yield goals and environmental growing conditions that year, but timing is key.

Still, weather conditions can thwart even the most careful managers. Growers with hard red spring wheat that doesn’t meet protein specs can blend it with other hard red spring wheat and find a market for it.

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