By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – Idaho wheat industry leaders believe a new wheat variety called “UI Cookie” could have significant potential for a lot of the state’s grain farmers.
The new variety was developed at the University of Idaho Research and Extension wheat breeding center in Aberdeen by researcher Jianli Chen and it has been licensed by the Idaho Wheat Commission.
UI Cookie was released by the university last April and the wheat commission will start and manage the commercialization process for the new variety this year.
“We do have high hopes for UI Cookie,” said “Genesee” Joe Anderson, a North Idaho farmer and IWC commissioner. “We’re happy to be able to provide value to the grower with this new variety.”
He said the variety was developed for irrigated land “but it performed well in both irrigated and dryland trials.”
According to Cathy Wilson, director of research collaboration for the commission, UI Cookie has boasted exceptional yields in trials, comparable to UI Stone, and it has topped the yields of cereal grains in Idaho the past two years.
She said the new variety also has improved resistance to stripe rust and good tolerance to Fusarium head blight.
IWC Executive Director Casey Chumrau said UI Cookie also stands out with easy threshing ability and exceptional end-use quality, particularly, as the name suggests, in cookies.
UI Cookie is a soft white spring wheat variety. About 65 percent of the wheat grown in Idaho last year was soft white.
“I think it really could benefit a lot of our growers,” Chumrau said.
Wheat is the state’s No. 2 crop in terms of farm-gate receipts and the grain is an important part of many Idaho farmers’ crop rotations. It is grown in 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties.
The IWC is funded by grower dollars and the commission spends about 30 percent of its annual research budget on wheat breeding programs that develop new varieties that grow well in Idaho.
U of I’s Aberdeen wheat breeding program is primarily funded through IWC dollars and through a research agreement between the two entities, the commission has always had the first right to negotiate an exclusive license for new varieties released by the program.
However, the wheat commission has not exercised that right before because the IWC is not in the seed business.
But with UI Cookie, the commission has decided to try a different approach and license the new variety, Chumrau said. In doing so, the commission can set the parameters and protections around the new variety and act as a bridge between the breeding program and commercial seed dealers.
The IWC decided to make UI Cookie a true public release, which means growers will be able to hold back seed from the variety for their own planting use the next year. Growers will also not be charged royalties for the variety as they would with other releases.
That will reduce the cost of seed for growers who purchase UI Cookie while hopefully at the same time providing them a new variety that performs well agronomically, Chumrau said.
“IWC took advantage of a unique circumstance to obtain the rights for UI Cookie and release it as a public release for farmers across the state without royalties or plant-back restrictions,” said IWC Commissioner Cory Kress, a wheat farmer from Rockland. “UI Cookie is a (soft white spring wheat) variety developed from grower funds and is being given back to the growers unrestricted.”
To help farmers see how the variety performs for themselves, the commission will manage three 30-acre seed trials this year. These trials will also expand the amount of registered seed for farmers who want to plant UI Cookie commercially.
Chumrau said it will take about two years to produce enough registered seed for farmers to begin planting UI Cookie on a commercial basis.
The trials will help anchor the new variety in the market, Wilson said. “Then from there, the market will take it however it will take it.”
“The idea right now is to start increasing that seed production and create buzz around UI Cookie and hopefully show growers what this variety will do for them and how it will perform in their fields,” Chumrau said. “Then when it becomes commercially available in the next year or two, growers can plant it if they are interested in doing that.”
She said that with this novel approach to UI Cookie, the commission is trying to give back to growers who have invested so much money into variety development programs over the years.
“Our mission is to improve the profitability of wheat growers and if we can help in any way to improve their operations and reduce their input costs, we’re going to do that,” Chumrau said. “We don’t know if this is going to be a success but we’re thinking outside the box and we want to do something different that hopefully has great potential for the growers.”
She said the commission has seed samples available for farmers who want to do their own strip trials this year. Anyone interested in doing that can contact Wilson at (208) 334-2353 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.