Does White Wheat Have a
Future in the Northern Plains?
White wheat has desirable end-use characteristics, but must overcome agronomic and marketing risks
While hard red spring and hard red winter dominate wheat acreage in the Northern Plains, research, market demand, and even a new federal program may encourage more hard white wheat production.
What exactly is the difference between red and white wheat?
Genetically, the main differences are three genes that confer bran color. Because white bran color is a recessive trait, all three genes would have to be present for the kernel to be white.
All other agronomic traits, such as grain yield, protein, disease resistance, and production practices including planting, fertilizing, and harvesting, are about the same. As with red wheat, there are both soft and hard kernel traits, and winter and spring growth habits for white wheat. Hard white spring wheat could be grown in the Northern Plains, but hard white winter wheat is a possibility too, just like hard red winter wheat.
White wheats generally have an advantage over red wheat in milling and end-use quality.
An economic report (No. 454) by North Dakota State University by Edward Janzen and William Wilson outlines some of these potential advantages. The authors of the report “White Wheat Market and Strategy Analysis for North Dakota,” (which can be found online at http://agecon.lib.umn.edu/ . Search for the paper by key words “454 white wheat”) say white wheat has milling extraction rates of 1 to 2% higher than red wheat, meaning
more flour is produced per bushel of milled grain.
Further, white wheat has fewer phenolic compounds and tannins in the bran, which impart a bitter aftertaste. Also, some customers, such as for Asian markets, prefer the white kernel color because it
is naturally associated with a lower level of the polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzyme that produces undesirable noodle color. As well, more bran from white wheat can be included in whole-wheat products, producing
whole wheat bread that looks whiter with a less bitter taste.
However, white wheat currently has several weaknesses.
Agronomically, the largest risk with white wheat is its susceptibility to preharvest sprouting, leading to market discounts and reduced falling numbers. Similar to durum, this is a problem only in areas with late season moisture, and may be less of a concern in drier climates.
From a marketing standpoint, white wheat creates segregation issues for storage and transportation. Even though the red and white wheats have similar end-use characteristics, cross contamination over
10% leads to a “mixed class” wheat grade with resulting price discounts. Janzen and Wilson reported, “the primary challenge associated with the development of the hard white market is the realization of a
market premium that will more than offset the added marketing costs associated with segregation and handling.”
Hard white wheat research and market development efforts are strongest in the High Plains, particularly Kansas, whose wheat industry has committed to transitioning away from hard red winter to hard white
winter wheat. “Nowhere do flour millers prefer U.S. hard red winter wheat due to its red bran color,” long-time Kansas State University milling professor Arlin Ward has said.
KSU named its first hard white wheat release, Arlin, after the professor in 1992.
KSU—the nation’s leading wheat breeding program with nearly half of its wheat variety development funded by the state’s wheat checkoff—has released four other hard white varieties in recent years, with
more on the way. Hard white wheats now regularly outperform reds in KSU variety performance trials, and a number of grain elevators in Kansas now handle hard white wheat.
Kansas’ wheat industry has prepared an educational backgrounder to promote a production switch to hard white wheat: Go to the Kansas Wheat Commission web site, www.kswheat.com .
Click on the hard white wheat link.
White Wheat Research Status
The development of hard white wheat in the Northern Plains is in its infancy,
particularly for hard red spring wheat breeding programs, which in recent years have been focusing primarily on breeding better tolerance to Fusarium head blight (scab).
Bill Berzonsky was hired in 1998 as NDSU’s hard white and specialty wheat breeder.
He estimates that 75% of his program is concentrated to white wheat. The cultivar, Argent (Greek word for “white”) was released in 1998 for the domestic bread market, as it has good protein and bread-baking qualities.
Berzonsky’s immediate goal for white wheat is to release an “improved Argent” with similar quality and a whiter kernel color. He says that preharvest sprouting is a concern in eastern N.D., and his
program screens lines for resistance. Berzonsky says he is using resistant lines from Agriculture Canada in his breeding program.
He says white wheat in the NDSU breeding pipeline may be targeted to drier climates such as western North Dakota, where Berzonsky says pre-harvest sprouting is less of a concern. This fits into his
belief that initial white wheat releases from his program might be better suited for domestic bread markets, because drier climates tend to produce higher protein content, which is beneficial for bread
South Dakota State University appears to be the closest in releasing a hard white winter wheat variety adapted for production in the Northern Plains. SDSU winter wheat breeder Amir Ibrahim says a
variety may be released in August, 2003, with foundation seed available to qualified certified seed growers in September.
Ibrahim says the variety has more potential in western South Dakota, where pre-harvest sprouting is less likely. “We are starting to see the fruits of the white wheat effort,” says Ibrahim, who adds
that SDSU may have another white variety ready for release next year. The wheat would be targeted for use domestically as well as for export to the Asian noodle markets.
Jim Anderson, spring wheat breeder at the University of Minnesota, says he has been “generating some white wheat lines by chance,” wherein he is finding two or three white kernel color genes through his
normal spring wheat crosses.
He estimates this to be approximately 10 experimental lines out of 400 in his program. Anderson also makes a few directed white wheat crosses, and estimates his overall efforts in white wheat to be between 5 to 10% of his total wheat crosses.
Anderson says that prehar-vest sprouting is the major production constraint for white wheat in Minnesota, and he routinely uses a dew chamber, similar to what is used for Fusarium Head Blight screening, to
test the lines for sprout tolerance. “Nearly all of the whites sprout readily,” Anderson says.
One out of 10 lines currently is acceptable, or similar to hard red spring preha-rvest sprouting resistance.
Researchers from Agriculture Canada have lines with resistance to preharvest sprouting that may hold promise to improving the limited white wheat material in Anderson’s program. “We don’t know how
many genes are involved and how difficult it would be to move them into adapted lines,” he says.
Still, given some time, Anderson believes it is possible to develop white wheat with preharvest sprouting resistance, but adds that tolerance to scab and leaf rust would also need to be acceptable before the U of M would release a white wheat variety.
SDSU spring wheat breeder Karl Glover also feels that preharvest sprouting is the largest concern for white wheat, and growers would be more interested in white wheat if not for that problem.
Glover says the north central and northeast regions of South Dakota have generally been too wet to focus more effort on white wheat development.
Glover says that in 2002, there were three white lines out of nearly 120 in his program that were promising enough to advance in preliminary yield trials. Two of these three remain in the program.
“Until the genetic issues associated with preharvest sprouting are better understood, there are more pressing issues South Dakota producers are interested in, such as herbicide and disease resistance,” he says.
Montana generally has a drier climate during harvest and therefore, preharvest sprouting is not an issue, according to spring wheat breeder Luther Talbert, at Montana State University.
Talbert says both spring and winter types are being developed at MSU, and adds that private breeding companies such as Western Plant Breeders and AgriPro Wheat also have white wheats. Talbert has
been involved in a private hard white release through Heartland Seeds and a public release of a high protein, bread market white wheat named “Explorer.” He says he still concentrates most of his attention on red
wheats, however, since reds constitute the greatest majority of wheat acreage in Montana.
Market Incentive Needed
Breeders and economists agree that even with sufficient quantities of quality white wheat,
marketing the crop remains an uncertainty. According to Janzen and Wilson, growers in the Northern Plains will adopt white wheat only through yield advantages or price premiums and therefore, without premiums,
yields would have to be significantly higher than red wheats.
In their economic analysis of white wheat, Janzen and Wilson write that since hard red wheat and hard white wheat are very close substitutes in both production and consumption, premiums are likely to be
minimal. “In reality,” they write, “domestic millers are unlikely to pay more than about six cents per bushel (premium), the value that may be realized through higher (milling) extraction rates.”
Neal Fisher, administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission, points out that the marketplace can in essence instill a “discount” or “premium” by the type of wheat it demands and purchases. “There is no
greater discount for growers than if (domestic and overseas users) stop buying our wheat,” he says.
Dakota Pride Cooperative, Jamestown, N.D., is working with the N.D. State Mill and Elevator to develop markets for white wheat flour. The co-op, with a membership of approximately 120 producers and
spearheaded by the North Dakota Farmers Union, is hoping to identify premiums through market efficiencies and identity-preserved varieties, including white wheat.
According to Mark Watne with Dakota Pride, the co-op is still in the process of evaluating white wheat varieties and markets, including a white wheat variety from Idaho named Lolo. Watne says Dakota Pride is evaluating whether co-op members can grow Lolo successfully. The co-op had limited production of Lolo in 2002 due to overly dry conditions in western N.D. and wet conditions in the northeast.
Watne says Dakota Pride members have tried the NDSU release Argent, but found the kernel color to be too dark.
They also grew AC Vista from Canada with more success, but felt it was better adapted to the bread market.
Delbert and Arlene Olson of Wing, N.D., are members of the co-op and produce certified Lolo for co-op members. Arlene says 2002 was their first year raising Lolo, and that they are excited about the
potential for the variety and the coopera-tive’s product.
MSU’s Talbert says there appears to be no cash purchasing of white wheat at local Montana elevators. Therefore, licensing agreements with private buyers is currently the best market for white wheat.
According to Talbert, approximately 90% of the white wheat grown in Montana is under contract, mostly with General Mills, Inc. which operates a flour mill in Great Falls.
General Mills reportedly pays a premium that is 5-10 cents per bushel above HRS market prices. General Mills Inc., under its Gold Medal product label, is converting a Kansas City, MO flour mill to white wheat. The company’s goal is to increase white wheat production up to 10 million bushels, and is contracting with Right Co-op, a Kansas farmer-cooperative, and paying premiums for production.
Berzonsky agrees that such production partnerships will continue until, if and when, white wheat production increases. He says this will be accomplished “with licensing between universities and
groups that can maximize potential in the end-use market.”
Janzen and Wilson, and Berzonsky as well, say that white wheat will initially be used by the domestic bread industry. Then, if production becomes high enough, export markets, such as the Asian noodle
market that Australia dominates, will become secondary segments. Tortillas, flatbreads, and whole-wheat products are also potential markets for white wheat.
With little market incentive and few white wheats available, Berzonsky says he doesn’t feel white wheat will replace red wheat in the Northern Plains, at least in the foreseeable future. Still,
potentially good markets exist, and will continue to be developed.
Berzonsky says that if he were a grower, “I would develop my market first,” before growing white wheat. Janzen draws comparisons to the paradox of the chicken and the egg in that “you can’t sell
white wheat until you have the markets, and you can’t market it until you have enough production.” Berzon-sky feels the same about developing a wheat class with no established markets against developing markets
without available wheat.
Regardless of this paradox, aside from the agronomic and marketing challenges, there appears to be adequate interest, demand and potential for white wheat to have a future in the Northern Plains.
USDA Announces Incentives to Produce Hard White Wheat
At the 2003 Wheat Industry Conference held recently in Albuquerque, NM.,
USDA Deputy Secretary Jim Moseley announced program details of the Hard White Wheat Incentive Program (HWWIP), for which $20 million was authorized under the 2002 Farm Bill.
“The goal of the program is to increase the number of bushels of hard white wheat produced in the United States for the 2003 through 2005 crop years, and we anticipate the provisions will achieve
this,” said Moseley.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer the program beginning with the 2003 hard white wheat crop. Key components of the program:
• Sign-up for 2003 HWWIP is scheduled to begin March 3.
• Both hard white winter wheat and hard white spring wheat are eligible for payment.
• A production incentive in the amount of $0.20 per bushel is provided for a minimum of #2 or better Hard White Wheat as established by Federal Grain Inspection Service.
• Payment can be earned on a maximum of 60 bushels for each planted acre.
• An additional incentive in the amount of $2.00 per acre is provided for each acre planted to certified seed. Producers are eligible to earn both the production incentive and the certified seed
incentive in the same year.
• Total Commodity Credit Corporation outlay for the three years is to be based on not more than 2 million acres or equivalent volume of production.
• Settlement sheets must be provided to FSA upon disposal of the production certified on the application, to be eligible to earn the production incentive.
• The end use of the hard white wheat may not be for feed use.
White wheat is preferred for noodles and is in demand by North African and central Asian bread markets. Currently, U.S. hard white wheat exports are small, partly due to inadequate supplies of
consistent quality. Target markets are predominantly in Southeast Asia, where hard white wheat varieties are used to produce Chinese noodles. Incentives to grow hard white wheat are expected to increase supplies of
consistent quality so exporters can compete in this export market.
Additional details and sign-up procedure is available at county FSA offices.