Cereal Grain

Wheat is the third ranking agricultural commodity in Washington,Home_image with 2.1 million acres planted and an estimated value of 628 million dollars annually. Washington wheat producers grow both winter and spring cultivars, including four different market classes of wheat and 50 different varieties/cultivars used in commercial production.

Wheat breeding at WSU has a hundred-year history. Together, WSU and USDA/ARS wheat breeding geneticists are continuing aggressive cultivar development programs to seek unique agronomic or quality traits and improve existing cultivars.

Barley in Washington is ranked fourth in the nation for production and consistently ranks in the top 25 among Washington’s agricultural commodities based on production value. With 200,000+ acres of barley planted annually, 95% is used for feed or export, 4% for malting, and less one percent for human consumption.  Growers are currently adopting two new cultivars ranked 2nd (Bob) and fourth (Radiant) in acreage in 2008 with improved grain quality, stripe rust, Hessian fly, and/or lodging resistances.

The objective of the WSU barley breeding program is to develop varieties for dryland cropping systems. Efforts concentrate on 2-row feed, malt, and food/industrial types of spring barley with minimal effort on 6-rows. There has been a major shift away from 6-rows in the last 15 years. Whereas, the bulk of the efforts are toward development of “mainstream” varieties that fit traditional local, regional and export markets, renewed interest in barley use for food and “industrial” purposes has stimulated expanded efforts toward breeding hulled and hulless, waxy, proanthocyanidin-free, and low phytate types. Some of the reasons for this include the FDA endorsement of health benefits from barley foods high in soluble fiber, a proposed grain fractionation plant for chemical and ethanol production, and increased East Asian demand for barley foods.

Traditionally spring barley follows winter wheat in rotations. However, we have been faced with declining barley acres planted in Washington due in no small part to the use of grass weed herbicides on winter wheat that carry barley plant-back restrictions. To combat this situation we have begun a mutation breeding program to induce resistance to these herbicides. At the same time we are screening for resistance to Rhizoctonia solani, a soil-borne pathogen with no known resistance in barley.

Collaborator, wheat breeding
Robert Allan, USDA-ARS


Research Geneticist, winter wheat breeding
Kim Garland Campbell

Endowed Chair, Assistant Professor and Scientist, winter wheat breeding
Arron Carter


Research Agronomist, plant genetic resource management
Richard Johnson, USDA-ARS


Professor and Scientist, plant breeding for sustainable, local, and organic systems
Stephen Jones
Breeding Wheat for Sustainable, Perennial and Organic Systems

Endowed Chair, Assistant Professor and Scientist, spring wheat breeding
Michael Pumphrey


Research Geneticist, wheat physiology
Dan Skinner

Assistant Professor, barley breeding
Kevin Murphy



WSU is home to the USDA-ARS Grain Legume Genetics and Pathology Unit, a national legume development program of international renown. In the USA, more than 1.6 million acres of dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas are planted annually.

Research Geneticist, pea genetics and breeding
Rebecca McGee, USDA-ARS


Research Geneticist, lentil and chickpea breeding
George Vandemark, USDA-ARS


Collaborator, lentil and chickpea breeding
Fred Muehlbauer, USDA-ARS


Grain Legume Genetics Physiloogy Research
Dr. Weidong Chen, USDA-ARS
Department of Plant Pathology 

Alternative Crops

Domestic consumption of dry edible beans continues to rise in response to consumer and scientific recognition of beans as a major health food. In addition to being high in fiber and protein, beans serve as an important natural source of folate and other vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants. The Pacific Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) produces 130,000 acres of dry edible beans annually, pinto beans being the most prominent. Eighty-five percent of the seed industry for dry edible beans and snap beans is based in the Pacific Northwest with over 30,000 acres for both export and domestic use, valued at $75 million per year. Commercial production of snap bean is on the rise in the Columbia Basin, and has been assisted by availability of heat tolerant cultivars.

Assistant Scientist, hops breeding
Steve Kenny


Research Geneticist, dry bean genetics and germplasm enhancement
Phil Miklas, USDA-ARS


Related pages:

Breeding Better Wheat

September 27, 2011

I spent this past summer trudging through six-mile treks each weekend with two good friends. We walked along the edge of wheat fields outside of town. Read more.

In Season


Although Middle Eastern cooks who found themselves in the United States undoubtedly found sources of such a vital ingredient, it wasn’t until the last couple of decades that the chickpea made its way into the American diet and moved up from the bottom shelf at the supermarket. It can be said with some confidence that chickpeas did not find their way into church carry-ins (potlucks to you non-Midwesterners) until very recently. Read more in the Winter 2010 edition of Washington State Magazine

NSF, Gates Foundation to Support WSU Research on Developing ‘Desert Wheat’

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers working on developing wheat varieties that grow under severe drought conditions — “desert wheat” — have earned a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.Part of the two foundations’ BREAD program, the grant will help fund WSU scientist Kulvinder Gill’s research on identifying genes that will increase wheat yields under drought stress. BREAD stands for Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development; it is a five-year program aimed at generating sustainable, science-based solutions to agricultural problems in developing countries. More than 130 U.S. institutions in 45 states, partnering with counterparts in 68 countries, submitted proposals for the inaugural BREAD competition. Read more.

‘Science’ urges more research

Perennial grain crops could be 20 years off

Earth-friendly perennial grain crops, which grow with less fertilizer, herbicide, fuel, and erosion than grains planted annually, could be available in two decades, according to researchers writing in the journal Science (25
June 2010). Read more and see video.