Luther Talbert, MSU spring wheat breeder

Producers listen to Luther Talbert, MSU spring wheat breeder, at Sidney irrigated field days in 2018.

SIDNEY, Mont. – The newest hard red spring wheat in Montana’s arsenal – Lanning – waves quietly in the summer breeze in fields at Montana State University’s Eastern Ag Research Center.

“Lanning is growing as breeder seed right behind us here at EARC,” said Luther Talbert, MSU’s spring wheat breeder at 2018 field days.

Lanning breeder seed is being grown at EARC in fields totally separated from any other cultivar, and it will be released as Foundation seed next year.

The cultivar is a major accomplishment for MSU’s spring wheat breeding program. It is higher in protein and has stronger gluten than Vida, the most widely grown spring wheat in Montana from 2010 to 2015.

Lanning comes from a cross between an old North Dakota variety, Glenn, and the Montana experimental variety MT0747. Lanning’s grain yield is similar to Vida, a very good yield, especially on dryland.

The spring wheat has excellent end-use qualities, which the new wheat releases must have to compete with earlier releases. Lanning is hollow-stemmed, so should not be grown in areas where wheat stem sawfly is prevalent.

The cultivar was named after Susan Lanning, an MSU research associate for nearly 30 years, who managed the breeding program under Talbert, and was known to make significant contributions to wheat development in Montana.

Lanning also has the stay-green trait that leads to higher yields.

“One innovation in the Great Plains for breeders over the past 15 years has been the stay-green trait,” Talbert said. The trait is a set of genes that causes the leaves of the wheat plant to stay green for an extended period of time after the plant heads, which is when the grain is filling. After the seed starts to fill, the longer leaves stay green and photosynthesis continues.

“Remember the stay green trait doesn’t just stay green – it stays green for a long time after it heads – and that is really the critical part between heading and leaf synapse.” he said.

Varieties like Vida and Reeder have the stay-green trait, which is particularly useful in drought conditions. In a dry year, the trait allows for a longer head-filling period and thus, better yields.

However, there are drawbacks with the stay-green trait.

After harvest, most Montana and North Dakota wheat is shipped overseas to bake bread, and good bread requires good gluten strength.

“One of the things we noticed was with these stay-green varieties, the gluten strength was not as good,” Talbert said. “Our end-users who buy Northern Plains wheat are telling us the gluten is a little low, and we wondered what we could do about it.”

Why do these stay-green varieties have lower gluten strength in the first place?

A whole bunch of different proteins make up gluten strength. If it is really hot when these proteins are trying to form gluten, gluten does not form very well.

Addressing both the stay green trait and gluten strength problem has been the mission over the past few years of all the spring wheat breeders in Montana and North Dakota.

“We wanted to get the gluten strength up a little bit in varieties with the stay-green trait, because Montana and North Dakota are famous for strong gluten wheat, and we want to keep that reputation,” Talbert said.

The result of that work breeding for better gluten strength in the stay-green trait was the new variety Lanning.

Lanning’s parent Glenn “has excellent end-use quality, and it is one that end-users still reminisce about. Flour made from Glenn makes really good bread,” Talbert said.

For the other parent, Talbert selected from lines related to Vida and Reeder that would head earlier. In fact, the line selected, MT0747, headed two to three days earlier than either Vida or Reeder.

“If we selected a line that headed earlier (MT0747), and kept the stay-green period, we could cut two or three days off of a plant sitting out there in the hot summer. We could still maintain this stay green trait and not have so much of a problem with gluten strength,” Talbert said.

The leaves of MT0747 stay green for a longer period after heading, meaning growth continues and yields increase.

Lanning is a win-win with good gluten strength, meaning it makes the kind of good bread end-users like, plus the cultivar maintains the stay-green trait. Even in drought on dryland, yields stay intact, and in fact, are good compared to many other varieties.

During the 2017 drought, Lanning had 27 bushels/acre at Sidney dryland acreage compared with Reeder (stay-green trait) at 26.8 bushels/acre; Choteau, 19.3 bushels/acre; Egan, a solution for the Orange Wheat Blossom Midge, 25.6 bushels/acre and Vida, 30.8 bushels/acre. Keep in mind the drought was extremely severe in 2017.

At Bozeman in 2017, which did not suffer as much drought, Lanning outperformed and/or did as well as many popular varieties. Lanning had 60 bushels/acre; compared with Choteau at 56.2; and LCS Pro at 61.4 bushels/acre but Vida had 67.1 bushels/acre.

Lanning’s high protein may mean producers want Lanning for its high protein, and Talbert asked that question at field days in 2017. However, no one raised his/her hand.

He wants to be able to let seed dealers know if high protein is the reason some producers want Lanning.

Another “very nice” finding with Lanning is that Lanning has the gene for aluminum tolerance.

Many soils in Montana have low pH in the top 6 inches, and when the pH drops too low, aluminum toxicity can occur. Substantial yield losses are the result.

“We were selecting for aluminum tolerance all along, and didn’t know it,” he said. But when they grew Lanning in the lowest pH soils in Montana, with pH lower than 5.5, it had tolerance to aluminum. “About half of our lines in Montana have this gene for tolerance to aluminum in low pH soils. It has been tested at several sites.”

Lanning has a very promising future – from the stay-green trait for maintaining yields in drought conditions to good gluten-strength and good protein, along with aluminum tolerance in low pH soils.

In addition to Lanning, Talbert’s spring wheat breeding program continues to address whatever Montana producers encounter in growing wheat, whether it be disease, insects or other pests, or whether it is grown under irrigation or on dryland, or in cooler or hotter climates.

One new release Talbert has requested for 2019 is MT1621, hard red spring wheat with the stay-green trait that will help with the wheat stem sawfly pest.

“MT1621 has an intermediate level of stem solidness, higher than semi-solid Vida, but lower than solid stem checks Choteau and Duclair,” Talbert said. It is moderately resistant to stripe rust, similar to Lanning and Duclair.

The wheat will also have higher grain protein than Vida, improved end-use quality and stem that is than others. Its protein is .8 percent higher than Vida, and similar to Lanning.

MT 1621 end-use qualities include greater dough strength than Vida, but not as high as McNeal, which include mixing tolerance, mixing time, and bake water absorption.

In 2017-2018, MT 1621 had an impressive grain yield of 97.8 bushels/acre and a high protein percent of 14.4 under irrigation at Sidney and 42.6 bushels/acre and 14.7 percent protein under dryland at Sidney.