Doug Holen, Mike Giroux, and Andy Hogg all stand in front of a field of MSU’s newest durum variety.

Wheat breeders at Montana State University (MSU) are pleased about the release of a new durum wheat variety that has high yield. The new durum is the result of collaboration between the breeding program based at MSU-Bozeman within the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology and the MSU Statewide Department of Research Centers.

Tested from 2017-19 in statewide yield trials, this line of durum, which has not been named yet, was officially released in January and is now being increased by Doug Holen and the MSU Foundation Seed Program. The plan is to have the variety available to the public for spring planting in 2022.

“This is a high-yielding durum that has high protein and low cadmium,” explained Dr. Mike Giroux, head of the Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology department at MSU.

For the most part, Canadian-developed durum varieties are low in cadmium and two recent durum releases from North Dakota State University also carry the low-cadmium trait.  Although cadmium levels in standard Montana grown durum are not a health concern for consumers, MSU wheat breeders wanted to ensure Montana wheat growers would be prepared if the low-cadmium trait became an export market requirement.

“The low-cadmium trait is one that we can select for that does not negatively impact yield, and export markets in the future may prefer lower cadmium wheat varieties,” Giroux stated.

Giroux went on to explain that looking ahead to the future is actually one of the key factors in developing new wheat varieties. Further, it takes 10 or more years to develop and fully test a new variety, so researchers must be privy to what conditions and markets growers may encounter.

“We have to have a good idea of what traits will be helpful to growers in the future,” Giroux said.

It isn’t just about the future when it comes to this new durum variety, in fact, being low-cadmium is really just a bonus. Since durum wheat is grown almost exclusively to be used in pasta, certain traits are vital to its success as a finished product, such as seed color, protein content and protein strength.

“This new durum variety has pasta quality traits including semolina extraction, pasta firmness and pasta color that are comparable to currently grown durum varieties,” Giroux explained.

It takes more than just protein quality and content to make a good, firm pasta; starch type is also very important, Giroux says. For the past few years, Giroux and MSU Research Associate, Andy Hogg, have been working on selecting for improvements in durum starch.   

“This variety has a starch branching mutation that increases pasta firmness a little bit and pasta firmness is an important quality trait,” he added.

In addition to its excellent product quality traits, MSU’s new durum variety has proven to yield well. During dryland yield trials conducted on MSU research stations from 2017-19, this new durum was the top ranked line. The variety also yielded well when grown under irrigation.

Although this new durum variety has not been named yet, Giroux says most MSU wheat varieties are named after small towns across Montana. It is proposed this durum wheat be called Lustre, named after a town in Valley County, located in northeastern Montana