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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Flat Aggie visits the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center

Hey there, it’s Flat Aggie!

Today I got to adventure around the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, where I toured the greenhouses, labs, test kitchen, seed bank and growth rooms. Let’s call it KWIC for short. The KWIC is located in Manhattan, Kansas! Manhattan is located in the northeastern part of Kansas, right in the heart of the Flint Hills. The average temperate in Manhattan during the month of March is 45 degrees, and in the month of August, temperatures can reach up to 109 degrees!

For those of you who don’t know, Kansas is the largest state for wheat production in the United States on average, so it was only fitting I spent the day hanging out at KWIC.

I started out the day by following the smell of freshly-baked bread into the test kitchen. I was greeted by Cindy Falk, the nutrition educator, and Julene DeRouchey, the nutrition educator assistant, who were baking bread in the shape of four-leaf clovers in honor of St. Patrick’s Day! When we got to them, they were fresh out of the oven, and we were able to do a little taste testing. They were delicious! They told me the KWIC’s test kitchen is always baking something good, and the smells radiate throughout the entire office. I had no problem spending a little extra time in there.

After I finished up our mid-morning snack, I went downstairs to the labs and greenhouses. Walking toward the labs, I stopped to learn a little bit about the double-haploid process. This is a production method adopted by Heartland Plant Innovations to decrease the amount of time spent developing new wheat varieties (think of varieties as new wheat families.) These new varieties will hopefully increase the potential to produce more wheat, boost the final quality of the wheat, improve this wheat family’s health and much more. 

 The goal at KWIC is to get new varieties of wheat into the hands of farmers, faster. It used to take 12-13 years to make a new wheat family that farmers can plant, but when these new varieties come to KWIC, the scientists can almost cut that time in half! Yay science!


 After learning about that service offered by HPI, I moved on to the labs, where I got to see people actually working on the double haploid process! I didn’t want to get in the way of their routine, so I stood back and watched while they worked. The double haploid process generally takes about a year to complete, so I only got to see a very short glimpse of it (wheat takes a long time to grow… just like you!)

After spending some time in the labs, I moved on to the wheat growth chambers. The growth chambers are used to give wheat a little bit of sunshine while it’s inside. Have you learned about photosynthesis? This is the process of how plants get their energy from the sun! If we’re inside, there’s no sun, so scientists have figured out what waves from the “light spectrum” that plants need most… And that just so happens to be the red and blue wavelengths! The rooms are generally colder than room temperature, and have bright red and blue lights that help the plants grow faster and stronger. The red and blue lights combine into the pinkish-purple color you see. The lights in the chamber were bright, and I didn’t bring my sunglasses, so I didn’t stay in long!
After I learned some cool facts about the growth chambers, I moved on to explore the seed gene bank. In the Wheat Genetics Resource Center, there are over 2,500 wheat species, and some of them date back many, many years! There are thousands of wild wheat varieties out there, and by keeping a gene bank, the scientists are able to improve new wheat varieties and the wheat industry! The seeds are stored at freezing cold temperatures, and this helps them stay good until the next time they are planted!
I left the gene bank wishing I had worn a heavier jacket due to the cold temperatures, and headed toward the greenhouses!
The KWIC is home to 22,750 square feet of greenhouse space, where researchers do it all! They are able to pot plants, process seeds and prepare the soil (not all dirt is created the same), all while they also develop advanced technologies for different wheat discoveries and genetic improvements (that means making new wheat varieties better than the old ones.) Thanks to Kansas wheat farmers, the KWIC is able to have these amazing resources to create great new wheat varieties!

Here I am hanging out in a wheat plant. I think I look good in green!

My time at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center learning about the crop, greenhouses, and getting to taste some of their tasty bread has left me excited to learn more about the crop that makes Kansas famous, and learning about even more agriculture topics! Don’t forget to thank a farmer and have a happy National Agriculture Month.