Looking Back: Cayuga County Farm Hosts Research Summit | Story

June 8, 2007

AURORA – Small-scale grain growers, researchers and buyers celebrated the development of a disease-resistant wheat variety and talked about their craft at Cornell University’s annual field day on Thursday.

About 50 people came to the Robert Musgrave Research Farm on Poplar Ridge Road to learn about the latest studies and advances in the field. A variety of white wheat grown at the university generated a lot of enthusiasm among the participants.

Named for Cornell University wheat breeder Neil Jensen, the variety in development for about five years has the potential to give farmers another growing option. Due to New York’s humid climate, the crop is more susceptible to sprouting and scab, two problematic wheat diseases.

“This variety is especially important to growers and buyers in New York,” said Professor Mark Sorrells. “This is the first variety that we have been able to develop with white seeds that are moderately resistant (to these diseases)”.

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At the same time, yields are similar to the popular variety Caledonia. Don Robin, a small grain grower in King Ferry, said the variety looked promising after walking slowly through the research plot.

“Over the past four years it has been very difficult, it has been a struggle,” he said. “And it all depends on the weather.”

Most frustrating are crops that develop disease late in the season and show no symptoms until just a week or two before harvest.

“I will definitely try to get some seed in the fall,” Robin said, referring to the limited quantities of Jensen seed the university plans to make available.

Sprouting and scab reduced white wheat supply and increased demand. A disease-resistant strain could provide opportunities for many growers.

“Sprouting has been such a problem over the past two years that many farmers have given it up,” said Hugh Dudley, an Orleans County seed and wheat grower. “This could revive the white wheat market in New York State.”

However, the variety itself is not the silver bullet for New York wheat farmers.

“There’s no perfect variety, there’s no perfect fungicide at this point,” said Gary Bergstrom, professor of plant pathology and field day organizer. “We can start reducing this problem, but it won’t happen overnight.”

The university strives to combine all of its best cultivation practices such as timing, crop rotation, and pest control into an approach known as integrated management.

— Compiled by David Wilcox