BOZEMAN – Montana State University has completed an agreement to license more than 700 developmental lines of durum wheat to Montana-based Northern Seed, LLC.

“Northern Seed is very excited to strengthen our relationship with MSU through this durum license and continued collaboration on behalf of Montana producers,” said Ryan Holt, vice president of supply chain and markets at Northern Seed. “The addition of these Montana lines to our existing durum program will only strengthen our ability to discover and develop new durum varieties. We look forward to the continued partnership with MSU and feel that together we will be able to leverage our strong breeding and testing assets.”

The developmental durum wheat lines that Northern Seed will take over come from durum breeding and genetics research program of Joyce Eckhoff, who recently retired after 28 years at MSU’s Eastern Agricultural Research Center near Sidney, where she served as a professor of agronomy and, this past year, as interim superintendent. With nobody presently available to take over the research, MSU decided that it would look to the private sector to take the program over, said Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s vice president of research and economic development.

“This deal with Northern Seed is a unique agreement because we didn’t option single varieties to the company, but rather we agreed to have them carry forward the entirety of these developmental lines from the breeding program of Dr. Eckhoff,” Reijo Pera said. “It is another example of the land-grant mission in action, where public investment in research pays off in growing a healthy economy, from agriculture, to biotech, to materials science.”

Durum is a dense-kernelled wheat that is very high in protein and low in gluten. Often called macaroni wheat because of its use in pasta, it is considered one of the most nutritionally significant forms of wheat. Pasta made from durum is firm with consistent cooking quality. Durum in Latin means hard, and the species is the hardest of all wheat. About 20 countries purchase U.S. durum, and Europe is the single largest importer of U.S. durum, followed by African and Middle East markets, and Latin America.

MSU’s research into the genetics and breeding of cereal grains has led to the development of crop varieties that offer greater yield, as well as resistance to a number of diseases and pests. The wheat research programs are carried out by MSU’s agricultural research centers. That research is integral to Montana’s 5.5 million acre wheat crop, which is valued at $1 billion annually. MSU-developed varieties account for more than 43 percent of Montana’s winter wheat crop and more than 31 percent of the state’s spring wheat.

“We are pleased that the legacy of MSU research in wheat breeding is continuing to support Montana’s producers, and we are particularly excited that Dr. Eckhoff’s program will continue under direction of researchers at Northern Seed,” said Charles Boyer, MSU vice president and dean of agriculture. “Wheat is a critical component in the Montana economy, and MSU researchers in Bozeman and at our agricultural research centers around the state will continue to develop, test and release new varieties that will improve this already top-notch Montana-grown product.”

Original article by Sepp Jannotta, (406) 994-7371, seppjannotta@montana.edu and can be seen here.

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