WSU is advancing Washington industries …
WSU teams with aviation to develop sustainable aviation biofuels …
WSU partners to develop bioproducts that reduce dependence on petroleum imports …
WSU works with state commodity commissions to conduct needed agricultural research …
WSU developed the technology used for wood-plastic composites used for buildings …
WSU researchers work to improve dairy productivity and reduce disease …
WSU research has made Washington one of the world’s most productive wheat-growing regions …

Cougar Chat, In the News, Land grant mission in action, improving everyday lives

Wonder bread (and grain), WSU style – land grant mission in action, improving everyday lives

wsu in wheat field

Welcome to the ninth entry in our series that extends information about Washington State University’s land grant mission and demonstrates how our university is increasing knowledge, providing research, and making a difference for our state. This week, we highlight WSU and its remarkable research on wheat and how it feeds the world. We also highlight exciting new developments that has WSU providing research and training that generate value-added opportunities leading to economic development and sustainable food production. We ask you to take five minutes and using the tools found on our website, share this information with your legislators. The importance of the agriculture is vital to the state of Washington and every one of our state’s 49 legislative districts. WSU and its research, educational, and outreach mission are the necessary ingredients to keep Washington growing, literally and figuratively!


It is such an important food staple that the term itself has been appropriated to characterize important dimensions of human existence.

For instance, bread or dough can mean cash or money, or it can refer to a person’s main source of income as in “this is my bread and butter.” Bread is often referred to as the “staff of life,” and “breaking bread” symbolizes something more than the sharing of a meal; rather, it conjures people coming together in body as well as spirit. As a basic food worldwide, bread has taken on significance beyond nutrition, evolving into a fixture in religious rituals, secular cultural life, and our language.

Washington State University has always had a hand in growing and improving the grain needed to make bread in its countless forms. Washingtonians love the rich diversity of bread products – tortillas, pita, naan, bagels, croissants, injera, biscotti — and we often indulge ourselves in the flavorful results of making artisan breads that rely on century old techniques along with a new appreciation for the molecular-level transformation of starch and gluten.

Since its beginning, WSU has conducted research in how to grow wheat in our state to help feed the world. Cougs may know the story of Orville Vogle, one of the more fabled and venerable researchers in WSU’s history. In 1949, Vogel led the team that developed the first of several new, shorter wheat varieties that produced 25 percent higher yields than the taller varieties they replaced. Vogel shared his dwarf wheat with Norman Borlaug, who later received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the “green revolution.” Borlaug publicly acknowledged Vogel’s contributions to his research. When combined with other improved farming practices, the dwarf wheat tripled India’s wheat production within a decade.

Since that time, WSU has not only conducted research on how to grow wheat sustainably on a finite resource – arable land, but in addition, how to protect it from global diseases such as wheat rust, and researchers are also developing varietals for drought-prone areas. With the knowledge that agriculture integrates so much of what defines humanity: our social, political, and economic processes and their interaction with the natural world, it is not surprising that WSU researchers are merging knowledge and technology to create sustainable, equitable, and ecologically protective grain production systems that can continue to feed the world.

Closer to our homes, WSU has launched into sustainability issues that may keep your bread basket full of tasty products from locally-sourced grains and flour. Wheat, and where and how it is grown, milled, and ultimately used in the baking process is a focus of Dr. Stephen Jones, Director of the WSU Mount Vernon Research and Extension Center.

Heading up our own home-grown, “green revolution” in western Washington, Dr. Jones is bringing back varieties of wheat that formerly grew on Whidbey Island, Skagit Valley, Sequim Valley, as well as the familiar eastern Washington locations including the Columbia Plateau and most prodigiously, the rolling Palouse Hills. One wheat variety alone – a Red Russian variety – is being tested on Whidbey Island, and has shown amazing results in terms of total production. And interestingly, tests and trials are suggest that the quality of the wheat is creating a kind of ” heritage wheat terroir,” similar to what consumers find in wines, fine chocolates, cheeses, and beer.

Accordingly,  local Westside bakers are crowing in appreciation. Many local restaurants, bakeries, suppliers, and consumers are seeking food sources that reduce the carbon footprint while creating a better understanding of the overall food system and support for local farmers. Dr. Jones and other WSU researchers are crossing over 150 wheat varieties, that grew on the Westside between the 1840s and 1955, with modern varieties best suited for growing in wet, coastal climates and conditions. WSU-Mount Vernon, is also the home of the Bread Lab. It is the first public laboratory designed solely to test and develop products and techniques for craft bakers. Similar to the role of WSU-Prosser in providing  research that underpins our state’s world-class wine industry, the Bread Lab combines science, art, curiosity, and innovation to explore ways of using local and unique grains in advancing the craft of bread baking forward.

Man does not live by bread alone, but the fact is that humans have had a long love affair with cultivated grain. For thousands of years, people have raised wheat and fashioned it into bread, in all of its incarnations. WSU has been and remains an important part of the evolution of wheat and its critical role in feeding human beings. WSU and its land grant mission continues to help ensure that the world can count on wheat as a major form of sustenance, and that ancient techniques and modern science can come together in sustainable harmony.

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