flathead wheat

A test field of Flathead grown on the Lutz Farm, located about seven miles north of Bozeman, Mont.

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Montana State University recently announced the release of two new varieties of winter wheat, Bobcat and Flathead, that address production issues facing some Montana growers. Bobcat helps with sawfly resistance and Flathead is earlier maturing while also increasing stripe rust resistance.

Sawflies have continued to be an issue for growers in parts of Montana, and MSU breeders have been working for years to try and come up with solid-stem varieties of wheat that can withstand the insect’s plight.

“Whenever you add a genetic into a variety, there is always a genetic consequence. In the past, when you had a solid-stem and some resistance to sawflies, you where giving up yield,” Holen explained.

MSU breeders have tried to address this yield issue and a solution has been met with Bobcat. It has all of the stem solidness that MSU’s best variety, Warhorse, possess, but Bobcat has more yield potential. Producers that have had to raise solid stems in the name of sawfly protection are no longer saddled with significant yield losses, making Bobcat a new and very exciting winter wheat variety.

Sawflies are more typically found in dryland wheat, but Holen pointed out that Bobcat has been tested under both dryland and irrigated conditions, where it performed well. Bobcat is predicted to do excellent in north central Montana and even the Golden Triangle.

“There is a lot of excitement for this variety this year because we are still limping out of a season where sawflies where very significant in some areas,” Holen expressed.

The variety was named after MSU’s mascot, so that too is cause for excitement.

Also new to MSU’s winter wheat lineup is the variety Flathead, named after the area of Montana it was developed in. Flathead is a release out of the Yellowstone tree. Yellowstone is an MSU developed winter wheat variety that has been predominantly grown across Montana for the last eight or nine years, making it the standard, according to Holen.

“Flathead is the offspring of Yellowstone and what we were trying to do is develop a variety of wheat with all the characteristics of Yellowstone with a few additional qualities,” stated Holen.

Flathead’s standout quality is the fact it matures four or five days earlier then any other MSU wheat variety, offering several benefits to Montana producers. Their workload can be spread out and Flathead avoids some heat and moisture issues that may face wheat later in their maturing.

“MSU has never had an early maturing variety, so Flathead really rounds-out our portfolio,” Holen said.

Additionally, Flathead possess some stripe rust resistance characteristics. Stripe rust became an issue to Montana wheat growers back in 2008 when the fungus nearly wiped out an entire MSU winter wheat variety called Genou. Stipe rust is more prevalent in irrigated areas, and more specifically around the Flathead Valley of Montana, hence why this variety was developed there.

Holen admitted, however, because Flathead is an early maturing variety, it could really be grown successfully just about anywhere in Montana a hollow-stem variety would flourish. Flathead has been tested all across Montana in both dryland and irrigated conditions, truly making it a Montana release.

Holen harvested 700 bushels of Bobcat and about 750 bushels of Flathead for Foundation Seed and those seeds are in the process of being cleaned and treated. Within the next few weeks, the seeds will be distributed to seed growers across the state that have put in requests to grow these varieties. Bobcat and Flathead should be available for public purchase between the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons.

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