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WSU Mount Vernon Small Grains Field Day heralds new grain varieties, flavors

Posted by CAHNRS.Web Team | September 26, 2016
Steve Lyon - winter wheat photo
Plant breeder Steve Lyon checks out some hard red winter wheat from an early generation breeding line at the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center. (Photo by Kim Binczewski)

Flavor in many forms will be featured at this year’s Small Grains Field Day here at the Research Center from 3 to 6 p.m. June 25, 2015.

The annual event, which is free and open to the public, gives the community of growers, industry representatives, and consumers a chance to network and learn about the latest small-grains research and how it impacts the economy in the Skagit Valley and beyond.

Small grains include wheat, barley, oats, and the pseudo-cereal grain buckwheat. This year’s Field Day highlights examples of the latest varieties specifically bred for and adapted to the mild marine climate of the Pacific Northwest, according to Steve Lyon, senior scientific assistant for the WSU Mount Vernon plant breeding program.

“Right now we’re looking at some really nice lines – like ‘Edison,’ a hard white spring wheat selected from long-time Bellingham plant breeder Merrill Lewis’ Fossum Remnants seed plantings,” said Lyon. “And ‘Richard,’ a new spring barley recently released by Washington State University specifically for western Washington, is already earning rave reviews from craft maltsters.”

There will be plenty of locally growing plants and harvested seed examples to see which reflect the range of color, flavor and aroma that some of these local grains bring to the table, Lyon said. “Much of the research we’ve been doing here at the Center reflects a renewed interest from breeders, growers and consumers in heritage grains and regional wheats that can add distinct flavor, character, and nutritional value when incorporated into whole-wheat products.”

Alba barley field photo 2
Visitors walk past a field of Alba barley during their tour of the research fields during the 2014 Small Grains Field Day. (Photo by Kim Binczewski)

For organizers and attendees alike, Small Grains Field Day provides something for the whole community.

“Whether we’re developing seed for farmers, amassing knowledge among researchers, or opening new niche markets for millers, bakers and maltsters, we are working together to build sustainable, high-quality, high-yield, disease-resistant small grains production in the Northwest,” said Lyon.

“One focus with small grains has been to bring in established varieties new to this area to see how they perform in our environment,” he added. “If a variety is going to fail, we want it to happen in our variety testing trials rather than in a farmer’s field, where it would cost them money.”

This marks the fifth year WSU Mount Vernon researchers have been breeding winter wheat for this region.

“Several wheat varieties already earning praise for their flavor have been bred, selected, produced and milled in the Skagit Valley,” Lyon said. “And there are even more promising varieties with the potential to grow well and be successfully utilized here on the west side of the Cascade Mountains.

“What is unique about these lines is that before one is released to the public, it will not only excel agronomically but must make a high-quality, flavorful end product,” he added.

There are also some promising hard red and soft white winter wheats from private European companies, and some spring varieties through CIMMYT “which do well in high rainfall areas and are especially good for bread wheat,” Lyon said.

CIMMYT is the Spanish acronym for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, a non-profit organization based in Mexico that researches sustainable development of wheat and maize farming worldwide. It provides seed, agronomy and agriculture research products, services and related tools to farmers in developing countries and maintains a seed bank which makes seed freely available to researchers.

At WSU Mount Vernon, plant breeding researchers grow and test the seed to determine suitable grains for this climate. In The Bread Lab, testing is taken to the next level to determine the qualities of local small grains that make them desirable for milling, baking and malting.

“We now have five years’ worth of local agronomic data posted to our website, so anyone can decide which varieties might work best for them,” Lyon said. “A new variety has to be profitable for the farmer yet — in its final form — be something the public will want to consume.”

More information about Small Grains Field Day and the WSU Mount Vernon Plant Breeding Program and Bread Lab is available at