Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wheat Lab

Vic explaining about a variety of wheat that was being
 grown in one of the greenhouse rooms

Almost  2 weeks ago, I was able to tour both the WSU Wheat Research Lab and the Wheat Quality Lab.  So come along and I'll show you ( in pictures), what I got to see and try to explain what I learned.  Farmers in this area are extremely fortunate in that we have not one, but two land grant universities six miles apart from each other, with the Washington State University in Pullman, WA and the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID and both have Ag research facilities.  This is good for us as you will see.

The wheat greenhouse lab is a secure facility and entry was gained via card entry.  My guides were Vic DeMacon, Senior Scientific Assistant and Gail Jacobson, Wheat Analyst (and also my neighbor).  The greenhouse facility was a vast area with many greenhouse rooms to accommodate various research mainly for wheat.

A wheat plant is grown in flats

Vic among the wheat - check out the huge lights that simulate the sun.
The greenhouse lighting and heating are very expensive costs for the college
 The research that is currently being conducted is to develop a "Rust Resistant" type of wheat plant.  What I saw on my tour were various wheat plants that were being grown and specific DNA was being cross bred to create a better plant.  Some of the wheat plants had come from Minnesota and were being bred with regional plants. So in essence the wheat breeders were taking the best DNA from the plants and creating a new variety. The heads of the male and female plants were encased in protective covers.

I asked Vic how long it would take once the ideal plant was developed to reach the farmer and I was told it is an 8-10 year process.  Amazing.  Many plants are developed for specific areas here in the Pacific Northwest as our growing seasons are very different and range from a high moisture to low moisture depending on geographic area.  The process is time consuming and meticulous records are kept.

Vic explained that they can simulate winter temperatures for the winter wheat plants. (Quick refresher- winter wheat is planted in the fall and the plant makeup needs the cold winter weather as part of its growing process, if it doesn't go into a sort of hibernation during winter, the plant will not make a wheat head when   growing season comes around). 
This cold unit simulates winter season for the wheat plants

These are the plants inside the vernalization growth room
I left the greenhouse complex amazed at all the time, effort and knowledge that goes into the research necessary in order to get a better plant that will naturally defend itself from the rust disease.  To sum it up, when wheat breeders develop plants that can naturally resist diseases, it is a win - win situation for the farmer and the consumer.   So Vic if you are reading this, thank you for your time and as a farmer, thank you for the helping us to grow better crops. =)

Next I went onto tour the Wheat Quality Lab where wheat is measured and gaged by protein content and quality.  This is important as it makes a big difference in baking properties and quality for cakes, breads, noodles, crackers, etc.  I saw many scientific machines that weighed and measured protein in the wheat breeds.  Then after all the testing of the kernels were done, it was made into flour and the final baking test was done in the WSU test kitchen.  Although no baking was being done at the time I was touring, you could imagine the great smells that would come out of this room. 

The charts for different types of wheat grown

The results on the baked goods with different wheat

The cookie on the left is the optimum result and the wheat properties
and varieties make all the difference in the results

WSU has a "baking lab kitchen" in the research facility to test the varieties and
how they will perform when used in cookies or breads

Gail showing me some bread samples

The poster says it all, the gluten protein quality makes all the difference
Again all the testing and knowledge to get a product that will yield the optimum results for the consumer is an extensive process.  The research universities help you and I in ways we never even think of and as a result, we are very fortunate to live in this country.  Thank you Gail for setting up this tour and for all you do in your research, as we the consumer, appreciate your hard work.

As always, hope you enjoyed the tour and if you have questions, please email me at    We are gearing up for Spring work and I'll be documenting what we are doing - right now we are waiting on the weather to give the green light! =)

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