By Jim Isleib, Michigan State University Extension
In the spring of 2011, Michigan State University wheat breeder Janet Lewis received a call from Minnesota. Yue Jin, a research plant pathologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Cereal Disease Laboratory on the University of Minnesota campus, was looking for a Michigan location to include in his winter wheat stem rust screening program. The location needed to be distant from the main wheat growing areas of Michigan and also receive consistent, heavy, annual snow cover. The snow cover was desirable to give winter protection to less cold-hardy wheat varieties that may be included from southern states in the screening program.
Jin's main wheat stem rust screening work takes place near his lab in St. Paul, Minn. The establishment of additional sites provides field screening options in case a large number of breeding lines from breeding programs across the United States need to be screened. The Michigan site will determine if a suitable remote site in Michigan can accommodate many different types of wheat varieties – southern wheat varieties in particular – and whether the location is suitable for stem rust development. Having the capacity in place to screen U.S. wheat lines from breeding programs across the United States is a valuable asset for the wheat breeding community.
The Michigan State University Extension Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham was chosen as a trial site for winter wheat stem rust screening in 2011. The site was established in a beef pasture area cleared of trees, but had never been plowed since the establishment of the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in 1899, and almost certainly not prior to that time.
The location was selected to minimize stem rust contamination potential of winter wheat grown by MSU on the facility. The ground was cultivated, stones were picked and fencing was installed to keep grazing cattle out.