Organic Broadcaster

University of Illinois introduces new wheat suited for organic production

By Phyllis Coulter

A new, taller wheat variety designed for hardiness and for the organic market has been certified, and was introduced to the public last September during an event celebrating farm-to-fork research at the University of Illinois.

The Erisman soft red winter wheat variety is named after Jack Erisman, an Illinois organic leader, who has been growing high-quality, food-grade corn and other organic crops in Pana in central Illinois since 1990.

The variety was developed by Frederic Kolb, a University of Illinois plant breeder and crop scientist, along with a team including research scientist Allison Krill.

“The development of a variety takes a long time. Erisman took 10 years, which is typical,” Kolb said.

Developers said they hope to have it commercially available for planting in 2018.

Development of Erisman wheat started in 2007. It is part of an ongoing wheat and oats breeding program at the university, which is focused on developing taller lines that compete well with cover crops to ease in harvest and to decrease diseases including fusarium head blight. And, of course, increase yield.

The new variety was evaluated at four Illinois locations in 2012-2015.

By 2016, Harold Wilken was growing the seed grain on his organic farm in Steward in northern Illinois. He grew 80 acres this fall, both for testing in mills and baking, and for seed.

Kolb has been working on varieties that resist fusarium head blight since 1993. The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative helped with funding to control the blight, which is caused by a fungus. It reduces yield and test weight and produces toxins that can be detrimental to livestock and humans, Kolb said. Beer brewed with barley containing fusarium has been known to gush right out of the bottle, he added.

This variety also is meant to be resistant to stripe rust, which was a problem for Illinois growers two years ago. It is designed to have a good test weight to benefit growers and have a short enough season that it could be double cropped with soybeans, for example, to make it profitable.

“It is always a challenge juggling all these traits,” Kolb said. In addition, the wheat must be evaluated for baking quality and tested with chefs, so both agronomic and milling traits are important.

As far as yield goes, Wilken estimates that the organic wheat has been running about 60 bu./acre on his farm.

Riggs Beer Company in Urbana is also growing the new variety. Darin Riggs, brewery vice president, said the wheat fields give both atmosphere outside the eastern Illinois brewery as well as product that will be used for brewing in the 2018 season. About three acres of Erisman wheat was harvested June 28 at the brewery, yielding about 70 bu./acre.

“It’s a great variety for malting,” Riggs added.

This is an edited version of a news story published in Illinois Farmer Today. Reprinted with the permission of the reporter.


From the January | February 2018 Issue

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