When it comes to breeding new wheat varieties, efficiency is key.
“If we can be more efficient in the greenhouse, that translates into better genetic lines that we can look at in field conditions,” said Arron Carter, Washington State University’s winter wheat breeder. “That means better products get out faster with better information for growers.”
To help increase efficiency, WSU and the Washington Grain Commission funded the new $15 million Washington Grains Plant Growth Facility on the WSU Pullman campus. The U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered to provide equipment and furnishings.
On Saturday, Oct. 17, the new facility was dedicated in a ceremony featuring remarks by interim WSU President Dan Bernardo, CAHNRS Acting Dean Kim Kidwell, Washington Grain Commission Chairman Steve Claassen, Commission member Mike Miller, USDA-ARS Western Area Director Andrew Hammond, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Josh Lozano, representing U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse.
Besides wheat, the greenhouses will be used for research on new varieties of barley. According to the Washington Grain Commission, small grains such as wheat and barley directly contribute over $1.1 billion annually and over 3,700 jobs to Washington’s economy.
“This is a state-of-the-art facility that will provide major benefits to our wheat and barley breeders, and from them to the entire state,” said Kidwell, who began her career at WSU as a spring wheat breeder.
The new building, which is attached to the Plant Growth Facility on Wilson Road in Pullman, adds 7,200 square feet of greenhouse space in 12 bays. It adds a seed storage area, a specialized room for herbicide studies and new lab space for breeders and other faculty, students and staff, among other benefits.
The major small grains research greenhouse was almost 20 years old, and “it was starting to feel pretty cramped,” said Dan Dreesmann, the plant growth facility manager.
The air handler systems and controls for the new building are computer controlled, and Dreesmann said everything can be operated remotely.
“It’s been a crazy couple of years, with the upgrades to the original facility plus this new space,” he said. “But it will be worth it to make things easier for the researchers. They were really eager to get in there and start working.”
Carter appreciates the help for his breeding program.
“We needed this space,” he said. “Both for developing new varieties and studying the genomic possibilities, we have to keep pace with new technologies. We wouldn’t be able to do that without this facility. We’re happy to be in here and using it.”