Drought and wildfires have combined to decimate Russia’s wheat crop this year, creating a void in exports and projections for increased bread prices worldwide. In the U.S., it has created a demand for bread wheat and provided an opportunity for upper Southeast growers.

Seed for traditional wheat varieties has been difficult to find for growers waiting until mid-summer to buy seed. Seed demand is much less for bread wheat, which may create even more interest among growers by the time October-November planting dates come and go.

Bread wheat, also known as hard red winter wheat, is traditionally grown from Texas to Montana, but little is usually planted in the Southeast. Over the past 12-15 years Virginia Tech’s small grains breeding program has turned out a number of bread wheat varieties that offer some options for growers in the upper Southeast.

One of the top milling quality bread wheat varieties in the Virginia Tech program is Soissons, a French variety that is grown throughout western Europe and has adapted well to Virginia growing conditions.

Virginia Tech small grains researcher Marla Hall says Soissons is a very good milling variety. In 2009, in statewide tests, it yielded 62 bushels per acre. Soissons is used in the Virginia Tech breeding program as a cross to incorporate its milling qualities in future varieties.

Speaking at a recent field day at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Virginia Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Warsaw, Va., Hall explained that each bread wheat variety in the statewide tests are sent to a USDA Lab in Manhattan, Kan., and given an overall quality bread wheat score.

Scientists at the USDA facility mill the grain into flour and use the flour to make a test loaf of bread. The baker then judges the loaf on such characteristics as rise, texture, and visually assesses the loaf and gives it a score from 0-6, with 0 being very poor and 6 being excellent.

“We like to grow varieties with a test score of 6, but 5 is pretty good. Soissons, for example, had a test score of 5 in last year’s tests,” Hall said. “Developing varieties with bread wheat scores of 5 or 6 and yields near 80 bushels per acre has been a challenge,” she adds.

Vision 10 is a soft wheat variety that is an old Pioneer breeding line. Pioneer closed down their hard red winter wheat breeding program in Kansas and gave their breeding lines to the scientific community. Virginia Tech tested several of the wheat breeding lines in their Bread Wheat Program and liked the high test score (5 in last year’s test) and released the variety as Vision 10.    

Vision 10 and Soissons share a common problem for Virginia wheat growers — yield. Like Soissons, Vision 10 yielded a little over 60 bushels per acre, which is 20 or so bushels per acre lower than other wheat classes grown in the upper Southeast.