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K-State Research and Extension

Wheat-breeding expertise assures quality year after year

With a name befitting its place at the summit of Kansas agriculture, the K-State-produced wheat variety called Everest just completed its fourth year as the top variety planted across the state — and the fifth time out of the last six years that a K-State variety has held the top spot. Everest was first released in 2009, and to have so many years of successful use is almost unheard of, according to Gary Pierzynski, head of the agronomy department

“Wheat varieties don’t last that long as their resistance to disease breaks down, and they have to be replaced continually,” Pierzynski said. “We wouldn’t expect Everest to remain the top variety for an extended period, but we’re confident what we’ve released recently will be tops in a couple years’ time.”

In fact, Pierzynski says two new varieties of hard red winter wheat released in 2016, Larry and Zenda, have the potential to replace Everest. 

K-State partners with the Kansas Wheat Alliance to continually ensure producers have access to seed that gives them the best yields and quality while keeping resources and research capacity within the state.

The long continuum of successful wheat breeding comes from K-State’s decades of commitment to research and development. Guarong Zhang, wheat breeder at the K-State Agricultural Research Center in Hays, says each successful variety is released to the public only after years of proving its quality. 
“Every year we develop and test about 1,000 new breeding lines,” Zhang said. “Before releasing a line, it would have been tested for about 6 to 7 years. A breeding cycle, from start to end, takes 10 to 12 years.”

Larry and Zenda are not the only varieties likely to win favor among producers over the next few years. Zhang expects the new hard red variety, Tatanka, to take the place of Joe, which won the 2016 wheat yield competition in western Kansas and set a record for state yield completion. Zenda is a descendent of Everest.

Tatanka and Larry are derived from Jagger, one of the most successful wheat breeds in the state’s history. Though it is not seen much in Kansas fields anymore, Jagger marked 22 years of productivity in 2016. 

The Kansas Wheat Alliance noted that at one point, Jagger was planted on virtually every acre in south-central Kansas and has gone on to be productive in 12 countries. Meanwhile, Jagger continues to have an impact as new varieties are developed from it.

Larry and Joe were named for longtime members of the K-State breeding team Larry Patton and T. Joe Martin. Everest was developed by Martin and Allan Fritz, a K-State alumnus who leads the wheat breeding team. 

With a system of experts that spans the state, the breeding team carries forward the legacy of developing the right combinations of yield, drought tolerance, disease resistance and processing qualities.