The art and science of naming a wheat variety
Thursday, October 4, 2018
What’s in a name?
Well, a lot more than you might think, at least when it comes to the Oklahoma State University-bred wheat varieties that ultimately graduate from experimental lines to commercial products.
The OSU Wheat Improvement Team invests an average of 10 to 12 years developing each of the high performing varieties for which the breeding program is known. The same exacting attention is given to naming the tangible fruits of that labor.
In fact, the naming process often begins 1 to 3 years before a variety is released. Yes, it’s that serious.
“As soon as I see an experimental line with commercial potential, the marketing gears begin to turn,” said Brett Carver, OSU wheat breeder.
In late September, OSU released four new hard red winter wheat varieties. As part of their official rollout, experimental lines OK12716, OK13209, OK13621 and OK13625 became Showdown, Green Hammer, Baker’s Ann and Skydance.
The quartet joins other OSU-bred varieties branded with colorfully descriptive, yet deeply meaningful, names. Examples include Smith’s Gold, Stardust and Spirit Rider.
Showdown’s name is a nod to its high yield potential and its toughness, while Green Hammer’s moniker refers to its grit and stout disease-resistance package.
“Showdown is just a good workhorse and good racehorse variety, two-horse power. It’s special because it’s been tough to beat in our own program. We’re constantly looking for experimental lines that will outdo the older experimental lines. This one has held its ground exceptionally well,” Carver said. “Green Hammer’s toughness and greenness comes from an impressive combination of leaf rust and stripe rust resistance. During the disease-heavy years of 2015-17, Green Hammer lived up to its name all across Oklahoma.”
Meanwhile, Baker’s Ann’s name recognizes this variety’s outstanding baking and milling qualities as well as serves as a tribute to The First Cowgirl, Ann Hargis, wife of OSU President Burns Hargis.
“Baker’s Ann is expected to represent OSU as our top ambassador across the entire wheat supply chain, just as Ann Hargis has so remarkably represented OSU throughout our campus community,” Carver said.
Then there’s Skydance, a variety that’s already being used in an artisan flour for an out-of-state commercial baking operation. The name reflects its Oklahoma roots as the Skydance Bridge, a 380-foot-long pedestrian bridge with a soaring 197-foot sculpture, is a well-known Oklahoma City landmark inspired by the state’s bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.
“The Skydance Bridge is a landmark in Oklahoma City and this particular variety has already been outside of our state,” Carver said. “We wanted to ensure that Oklahoma connection, because we think it’s going to go places beyond the state.”
Though inspiration comes from all kinds of sources, there’s a definite method to the naming effort.
“First and foremost, the name should be easily spelled out upon its pronunciation, but also, the name should say something positive about the variety,” Carver said. “Often, I like to use names that draw from music – all varieties represent a work of art – or an OSU tradition or that recognize people or animals. Ideas often fall right off a tv or movie screen or good ole newsprint.”
Interestingly, Carver doesn’t always start from scratch, either.
“Oh, yeah, there is a short list and the list is not short!” he said.
Beyond obvious reasons for wanting to nail down the perfect name, the monikers also are splashed across ball caps as a fun and practical way of celebrating each newly released OSU wheat variety.
“Way back in the day, Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks would have a cap made with the variety name on it and those were available to customers who purchased Foundation Seed,” said Jeff Wright, coordinator, production and operations, for OFSS.
While the special caps always have been made available to customers who buy seed from OFSS, these days Oklahoma Genetics, Inc., also hands them out to clients who purchase seed from the nonprofit organization.
While some caps simply display the variety’s name and a few wheat heads, others are more intricate.
For instance, varieties Gallagher and Iba were released in 2012, only months after a plane crash that claimed the lives of four people, including OSU women’s basketball head coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna. So, Wright incorporated the Remember the 4 logo on those caps.
“Last year, I came up with something different for Smith’s Gold in the logo because of the significance of the variety and coach,” Wright said.
The name Smith’s Gold was chosen to remind producers it carries forward the strong tradition of Gallagher, just as OSU’s current wrestling program led by head coach John Smith has carried forward the strong tradition established by Coach Edward C. Gallagher.
“When Doublestop came out, I drew a fiddle with two strings and put in the cap that it tunes out rye,” Wright said. “So, there are just little things on some varieties, and then I think people have come to kind of expect something when we release a new one.”
While it’s too soon to tell what the caps for the four newest varieties will feature, but with such creative names as Showdown, Green Hammer, Baker’s Ann and Skydance, the possibilities are just about endless.
Story by Leilana McKindra