For Release August 11, 1998

The Facts on White Wheat

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agricultural Agent

There has been a lot of press the past eight months about white wheat. Wheat farmers are asking if they should be thinking about planting it. Consumers are wondering if it’s going to change the face of local agriculture. Will it change the bread we all buy? Is white wheat the savior of the current farm income crisis? Will white wheat be grown under contract with elevators or millers? I don’t have a lot of those answers but let’s cover what we know!

First of all let’s define the kind of white wheat we’ll be growing around here. For years white wheat was the wheat of the Pacific northwest. There was a smattering of white wheat grown in Michigan and New York but the majority was from Washington and Oregon. Many of these were what we called club wheats. Club wheat is actually a different species than our standard wheats.

The kind of wheat that we currently grow in Kansas is hard red winter wheat. The white wheat that you’ll start to see is hard white winter wheat. The basic difference comes down to a couple of genes that controls the color of the bran or seed coat. What actually happens is that rather than having the genes for bran color the white wheats have no major genes for bran color. In all honesty red wheat is often not very red and white wheat won’t be very white. White wheat will be several shades lighter than red wheat, but it won’t be ‘white’.

White wheat has been in the wheat breeding program since the time of Turkey Red. The white kernels were generally discarded because of grower and consumer preference to the red kernels. There has been concern expressed over reported problems of seeds sprouting in the heads of white wheats (preharvest sprouting). Over time it has been proven that this has nothing to do with bran color but the presence of other genes that inhibit preharvest sprouting.

K-State has been working on white wheats for over ten years and the first releases will be available to seed growers this fall. Prior to 1990 all white wheat was classified as white wheat by the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS). This posed potential problems because there were hard and soft, winter and spring varieties. The winter and spring differences are not noteworthy, but the hard and soft varieties need to be kept separated. In 1990 the FGIS split the old white wheat class into hard white wheat and soft white wheat.

Why white wheat? The United States produces more than enough wheat for our own consumption so we have plenty to sell on the world market. In many parts of the world, especially around the Pacific rim, there is a strong preference for the white wheats. Bread is a standard staple in North America, but noodles are the staple in eastern Asia. Most of our hard red winter wheats do not make good noodles. The new white wheat varieties produce very good noodle flour as well as outstanding bread flour. The white wheat will be much more marketable in world trade. Another plus is that Kansas ‘has the jump’ on our neighboring wheat producing states. We can be in the world marketplace sooner.

There are domestic advantages also. With the absence of the colored bran coat a miller doesn’t have to mill as much of the bran away to maintain a white wheat flour. Each pound of wheat will produce a few more percentage points of flour. And whole wheat flour will also be a much lighter product.

Should a producer switch over as soon as possible? Production practices will be very similar to our current wheats. The big question is marketing. Before you put a kernel of white wheat in the ground make sure you know where you will sell it. It may be awhile before you can take a truck load of white wheat to just any elevator and sell it. If you’d like more information on white wheat we have a good bulletin on white wheat in Kansas at the Extension Office.


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