Historic Wheat Varieties May Hold Key to Enhancing Modern Varieties

Heirloom varieties are being studied for wheat characteristics such as disease resistance.

| November/December 2012

Scientists at a university in Washington state are looking to historic wheat varieties of the past for clues to enhance the modern wheat seed. More than 160 organic wheat varieties from between the 1840s and 1955 are part of the group being evaluated.

“None of these varieties could compete with today’s modern varieties,” says Kevin Murphy, Washington State University crop and soil scientist. “However, they each potentially possess valuable traits that could significantly enhance the disease resistance, weed competitiveness, and productivity of modern varieties — traits that might be highly effective under organic farming conditions.”

The WSU Organic Wheat Breeding Program is the first of its type in the nation that evaluates crosses of historical wheat varieties with modern types.

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