Selecting a Wheat Variety
(By T. Walters and R. Sears, 1986. Revised by R. Bowden)


Variety selection can make the difference between profit and loss, so deserves careful attention each year. Obviously, the primary objective is to pick varieties that will give high per acre yields and the highest possible net income, but this is not a simple matter.

Importance of Yield

Varieties do differ in grain yield potential. During the past 20 years, yields have increased approximately one-half bushel per acre per year, due to the release of new improved varieties. Consider choosing new released varieties on a regular basis, perhaps every 3 to 4 years, to take advantage of the higher yield potential of new varieties.

High yield potential should not be the only yardstick for varietal selection, since there are many factors that influence actual yield in the bin. Variety strengths (e.g. yield potential, pest resistance, or strong straw) should be matched against expected field problems (e.g. soilborne mosaic, Hessian fly infestation, or lodging) so as to get the best possible protection against hazards while maintaining high yields. Since no perfect varieties have been developed, this usually results in compromise and assumption of risks in order to gain advantages in other areas. Several different varieties should be planted in order to hedge against some of the unpredictable weather and pest problems.

The Numbers Problem

A complicating factor in recent years is the growing number of choices. It takes more time now to sift through characteristics, comparative performance data, seed sources, and relative prices than it did a few years ago. The Federal Plant Variety Protection Act stimulated private breeding and sales of variety seed by providing a "plant patent" protection to originators. Hybrids have their own built-in "patent" protection because new seed must be purchased for planting each year. In addition, Great Plains public breeding programs have been active in releasing new varieties in recent years.

Since it is not feasible for growers to individually test all varieties on the market, they must rely on other sources for their information. Sources include their own neighborhood experience, county agent demonstrations and tours, Experiment Station field days and test information, seed company advertising, demonstrations, and meetings. It takes considerable effort, careful study, and good judgement to make intelligent choices from all of this information. Use your own experience with the varieties you have personally grown as a base for comparisons.

Experiment Station Help

The Experiment Station role has changed over the years. The old listing of "Recommended Varieties" by areas was discontinued when so many varieties became available, resulting in a large list of variety names that by itself had little meaning. Instead, varieties are compared in scientifically conducted yield tests at 16 sites over Kansas each year, and the results are distributed to the public soon after harvest. In addition, many greenhouse and laboratory tests contribute information on pest tolerance, baking quality, and other factors. Several publications summarizing the above tests are available to growers at all county Extension offices. Several are also available in electronic versions: