January 9, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

Plant breeders at the University of Kentucky are busy trying to propagate more varieties of soft white winter wheat that will grow and produce quality grain in the state.

Already some white wheat is being grown in Kentucky with farmers offered premium pricing above the traditional soft red winter wheat. The wheat is grown in large acres in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest.

The basic difference between the two wheat types is in three genes which provide the red coloring, said David Van Sanford, UK plant breeder. Both types are used for a variety of end products including cookies, crackers and cakes.

Millers like white wheat because they can mill a little closer to the bran without worrying about a bitter taste that can occur with milling too closely in red wheat. So that allows them to get a little bit more flour, Van Sanford said.

The seed coat can also be used in breakfast cereal. Most of the white wheat grown in Michigan is used for breakfast cereal, he said.

"On the down side, white wheats are a whole lot more prone to sprouting in wet weather," Van Sanford said.

Van Sanford said the reasons for interest in developing soft white wheats include yields. In test plots containing red and white wheats in 2000, two Pioneer varieties tested right at the top. They did have somewhat lighter test weights.

In 2000, there were 750 acres of white wheat grown in Kentucky, all under contract, he said. Right now, there are 1,500 acres in the ground for harvest this summer. Those acres are also being grown under contract at a 20 cent premium above September future price. "So, there is an economic incentive to grow white wheat," he said.

All the wheat is being sold to Siemer Milling Co. in Hopkinsville where it is cleaned and sold to Bremner Inc., in Princeton where it is used to make a woven wheat cracker.

Kentucky's production accounts for only about one month's supply for Bremner, Van Sanford said.

"So, I'd say if we get all the bugs worked out of the system there's a 10 to 12 fold increase possible in the amount of soft white wheat that can be grown for this product," he said. Van Sanford said if it white wheat production became a reality in Kentucky, it has the potential to expand to other products.

The lack of bitterness in certain products is fairly important, but the lack of bitterness is not the only reason it is used. It is more aesthetically pleasing for use in the woven wheat crackers, he said.

Van Sanford said UK is just getting started with the white wheat breeding project which is being funded by the Kentucky Small Grain Growers, Kentucky Department of Agriculture and a New Grain Crops Opportunity grant.

By 2004, breeders hope to have several white wheat lines in multi location testing. Van Sanford said they will be screening heavily for sprout resistance and resistance to vomitoxin.


David Van Sanford, (859) 257-5811