CSU Wheat Research

Colorado producers invested $793,026 in wheat breeding and wheat-related research in fiscal year 2019-20, roughly 45% of the total CWAC budget. Variety development continues to be a major focus, breeding for Colorado’s unique conditions, which now include severe pressure from the wheat stem sawfly in many northeastern counties. The elite wheat breeding program at Colorado State University uses the latest technologies available to develop hard red, hard white, CoAXium®, Clearfield®, and wheat stem sawfly-resistant varieties. The assessment has also supported numerous other wheat-related research scientists and programs aimed at increasing profitability.


This was the 51st year of an ongoing, comprehensive project aimed at developing better wheat varieties for Colorado producers, led by Dr. Scott Haley for the past 21 years in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. Beginning in August 2020, leadership of the program transitioned to Dr. Esten Mason. Breeding trials are harvested at fifteen locations in eastern Colorado. The project breeds for both yield and end-use quality, including varieties that promote identity-preserved marketing of hard white wheat, as well as insect and disease tolerance and herbicide tolerance. The project utilizes the most advanced breeding technologies, like marker-assisted selection, doubled haploids, and genomic selection. The project has recently increased effort on development of semi-solid varieties that show reduced cutting from the wheat stem sawfly. Recent releases into the PlainsGold® brand include Guardian and Fortify SF released in 2019, and Kivari AX released in 2020.


This was the 11th year of a program to build gene-editing capacity at CSU, under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Pearce, Assistant Professor of Wheat Functional Genomics in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. The project focuses on development of non-GMO wheat traits that are very difficult to achieve through conventional breeding. ‘CRISPR’ is a simple but powerful tool that can be used to develop both quality traits and agronomic traits. Quality traits in development include zero-PPO (poly-phenol oxidase) wheat, and improved nutritional quality. Agronomic traits in development include new herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance, increased cellulose and lignin in the stem (which could help against wheat stem sawfly and/or improve straw strength), and virus resistance.


This was the 35th year of a continuing program under the leadership of Dr. Jerry Johnson in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. This project supports the existing wheat improvement program and provides farmers with unbiased and reliable variety recommendations for making better decisions. It provides partial support for a Research Associate to assist in the operation of wheat test plots and partial operating expenses for 11 dryland and 3 irrigated variety trials annually. 


This was the 30th year of entomology support at CSU, led for many years
by Dr. Frank Peairs in the Department
of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, which has been renamed as the Department of Agricultural Biology. The wheat stem sawfly (WSS) has quickly become the primary insect of concern for wheat production in Colorado. This project assists the Wheat Breeding Program
in evaluation of stem solidness of early generation breeding lines. The project also conducts a survey to evaluate the pest’s movement, works on establishment of insect-rearing capability, and assesses control measures previously developed in other environments. This program has been assisting the Wheat Breeding Program in identifying several new candidate varieties that will complement Fortify SF with higher levels of stem solidness in upcoming years.


This was the 5th year of a continuing program under the leadership of Dr. Adam Heuberger in the Department of Horticulture. Research focuses on identifying metabolites in wheat grain that are related to superior aroma and flavor when baking bread, then finding the genes in wheat that control these properties. The project seeks unique chemistry and sensory traits that can provide the foundation for marketing novel flavors in whole wheat bread.

WEED SCIENCE – $60,000

This was the 30th year of weed science support at CSU, under the leadership of Dr. Phil Westra and Dr. Todd Gaines in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, which has been renamed as the Department of Agricultural Biology. These funds support both basic and applied research on existing and emerging annual and perennial weed problems and help support gene-based documentation of herbicide tolerance traits. Key weeds include feral rye, jointed goatgrass, downy bromegrass, kochia, and Russian thistle. Last year, the program documented resistance to imazamox (Beyond) herbicide in two populations of feral rye along the Front Range. The project also supports the CoAXium® Wheat Production System, and is working on new herbicide tolerance projects.


This was the 4th year of funding under the leadership of Dr. Franck Dayan in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, which has been renamed as the Department of Agricultural Biology. Weed pressure continues to be one of the most profit-limiting aspects of wheat production, especially as weeds evolve to be tolerant to existing chemistries. These funds enhance the existing weed science research program and help support basic science to 1) identify novel herbicides suitable for use for weed control in Colorado; 2) develop novel herbicide tolerance traits; and 3) characterize the tolerance mechanisms and the specific mutation(s) conferring tolerance.


This was the 38th year of a continuing program at CSU
in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, which has been renamed as the Department of Agricultural Biology. The project supports research and extension efforts for all wheat diseases, with a focus on stripe rust and wheat virus diseases vectored by the wheat curl mite (Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus, Wheat Mosaic Virus, and Triticum Mosaic Virus). The aim of these programs is to develop improved disease predictive models, management strategies, and screening of CSU germplasm for sources of resistance. Dr. Robyn Roberts was recently hired by CSU and started Fall 2020 as Assistant Professor in Plant Pathology.


This was the 13th year of support for Agronomy Foundation Seed (AFS), managed since 2018 by Barry Ogg. AFS operates within CSU Seed Programs and is the link between CSU breeding programs and Certified seed
growers. A healthy foundation seed program is critical for getting new varieties out to farmers for fast adoption. AFS is responsible for increasing breeder seed of new wheat varieties while maintaining varietal purity. Foundation seed is then used as the seed source for Registered and Certified seed production throughout Colorado and the region.


This was the 34th year of a program to test wheat varieties in District 9 which includes Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, under the direction of Dr. Reza Keshavarz, Research and Extension Agronomist at the Western Colorado Research Center in Fruita. A single trial is typically planted at Hayden, with the CSU Wheat Breeding Program soliciting entries from other states as well as entering PlainsGold® varieties with adaptation for this district. The funding was redirected back to the Wheat Breeding Program in 2020 since the combine for this project was undergoing repairs.