Thanks to research and development efforts at Montana State University’s College of Agriculture, the state will remain one of the top five wheat producers in the country.
The university’s College of Agriculture and Montana Agriculture Experiment Station have long operated a wheat-breeding program, which has resulted in a number of weather- and pest-resistant varieties. In fact, close to half of the wheat grown in Montana is a result of varieties developed at Montana State, says Glenn Duff, Montana State University interim dean of the College of Agriculture and director of the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station.
Leaders in the Field
“Right now, we’re looking at developing varieties against one of the most common pests in Montana – the wheat stem sawfly. We also have some projects where we’re looking at varieties resistant to the orange blossom wheat midge, which was discovered up around the Flathead area around 2006,” Duff says. “We’re releasing a variety in the next few years that helps control the wheat midge, and we’ll blend it with some of the other wheat varieties to build resistance over the long term.”
The wheat projects are just one example of the university’s efforts to secure the future of agriculture in the state. David Baumbauer, director of the Montana State University Plant Growth Center, points to the center’s seed potato lab as another.
“The Montana Potato Improvement Association is upstairs in the potato lab, and their job is to ensure that Montana seed potatoes are virus and bacterial-disease free,” he says.
Baumbauer says the research involves an intensive series of tests throughout the year. The plant’s foliage is tested in the summer, and the tubers are tested in the winter. Farmers then use the research findings to cull out any virus-infected potatoes.
“They’re able to certify their product as being virus and bacterial free, so it makes Montana potatoes a really high-value crop,” Baumbauer says. “Montana seed potatoes are sold from Maine to Washington, and it really is a premier product for the seed industry.”
Duff says that as the state’s only land-grant institution, Montana State University has a responsibility to “provide the information that’s important for producers.”
“We’re conducting research to answer questions that might not be posed for years,” he says. “We’re looking at five years, 10 years down the line. That’s what’s really important. Our faculty will help identify future issues even before they become an issue.”
Duff adds that information is passed to farmers through the seven research centers located across the state and agriculture extension agencies, as well as through a series of Field Days, during which researchers share new findings and technological developments with growers. Each regional research center has also established advisory committees comprised of producers and industry leaders to consult with researchers and extension agents. Duff says the College of Agriculture faculty also fields calls from individual producers.
“They’ll talk about ways they can improve production or some of the problems they’re having on the farm, and those conversations can lead to research ideas,” he says.
One of the strengths of Montana State is its size, Duff says.
“We’re big enough to have all these different programs, and we’re big enough to have the technologies – whether it’s materials required for gene transfer or precision agriculture,” he says. “Yet, we’re small enough that as an undergraduate, a student has access to those laboratories and can work with those researchers to get that hands-on approach that brings their classroom work to life.”