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Royalties from OSU-bred wheat varieties help fund innovation

Monday, February 29, 2016

Oklahoma Genetics, Inc. presented royalties from seed sales of wheat varieties developed by Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources to OSU President Burns Hargis and the OSU Agricultural Experiment Station Feb. 26 in Stillwater.

In presenting the check for $643,739.89, OGI Executive Director Mark Hodges credited the OSU Wheat Improvement Team and its lead researcher, Brett Carver, for not only breeding high quality varieties, but building key relationships with producers, as well as those on the milling and baking side of the industry.

“Wheat breeding is not just a science, it’s an art, and Dr. Carver has made a concentrated effort to address the needs of the entire wheat industry,” Hodges said. “We’ve come up with some very unique marketing strategies to be successful, but without the breeder we’d have nothing.”

The royalties will be reinvested into an already robust wheat breeding program led by the WIT, an interdisciplinary team of nine OSU researchers. The funding also will support faculty retention.

“Industry partners such as OGI have provided an avenue to get our intellectual property into the hands of producers and provided a return on that intellectual property that fuels future innovation,” Hargis said. “In an environment in which budgets are growing increasingly tighter, we’re going to have to come up with innovative ways to fund the research and work that goes on here at OSU, and there’s none more innovative than our partnership with OGI. This relationship is not only great, but it serves as a model for others.”

Currently, wheat varieties developed by OSU account for more than 40 percent of Oklahoma wheat acres and 15 percent of acres in the southern Great Plains, totaling about 3.1 million acres of wheat.

This is a significant shift considering 10 years ago most of the wheat acres in the state were sown to varieties bred at Kansas State University or by private industry.

“Looking ahead, our current varieties are really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re using advanced molecular techniques to streamline the traditional wheat breeding process that, in turn, helps get product into the hands of producers more quickly,” said Jeff Edwards, head of the OSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

“Wheat producers are loyal and true but they wouldn’t plant our varieties if they didn’t perform,” he said. “I’m really proud of our WIT, led by Dr. Carver, and the work they’re doing and we have a great relationship with the industry that’s allowing us to plow important resources back into the program.”

Earlier this month, the WIT released Stardust, a hard white wheat variety that will be available to producers this summer, and last July, the team released Bentley, a hard red wheat variety.

“We appreciate the support, endorsement and confidence producers have expressed in the varieties they choose. There are a lot of choices out there and right now those choices are becoming more and more abundant,” Carver said. “As a faculty member at a land-grant university, I believe we need to uphold this research effort because this isn’t just about OGI and Oklahoma wheat, this is about wheat, in general, and our food system. I think with our faculty, infrastructure and relationships with producers pillared by Extension, the key parts are there. Land-grant institutions are more than capable of producing a reliable seed product.”

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