Kansas Wheat Quality Lab

Posted February 20, 2014

The Kansas Wheat Quality Lab is working on a number of projects on behalf of Kansas wheat farmers. The main funding for the lab is provided by Kansas wheat producers through the two penny per bushel wheat checkoff.

Wheat Breeding Program

The main purpose of the Wheat Quality Lab is to provide testing results for KSU wheat breeders Allan Fritz and Gourong Zhang.

Wheat breeders at Kansas State University continually work to improve the agronomic traits of Kansas wheat varieties. In addition to agronomic traits, successful varieties should be marketable. Dr. Rebecca Miller, director of the Wheat Quality Laboratory, and student employees provide evaluations of physical and chemical kernel characteristics, milling yield and flour and baking properties of promising experimental wheat lines.

The mixograph is used to determine mixing time and how much water will be needed for bread baking.

Photo: Mixograph.
Because the mixograph requires only a few grams of wheat and provides a significant amount of data about the variety, Miller and her students are able to run these tests early in the breeding process. When Fritz sends samples to the Wheat Quality Lab, he is able to eliminate about half of the potential varieties based on the data from the mixograph. Those varieties that move on through the process come back to the lab in a couple years when there is enough flour to conduct a baking test.

Photo: Using the results from the mixograph, the flour is mixed into dough.
The dough is made using only flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt, and shortening. It is a very simple formula used to test the flour. The lab technicians do as much of the process as they can mechanically to reduce the possibility of human error. Dr. Miller trains bakers for about a month before letting them bake actual samples because the job is tedious and the samples cannot be wasted.

Photo: Dough is left to rise.
The lab uses pup loaves, made from 100 grams of flour. It takes about a day to bake 20-30 loaves of bread, and each flour sample is baked twice. The lab uses the Finney Method, which was developed at K-State by Carl Finney of the USDA.

Photo: Measuring the volume of the loaf.
After the bread is baked, the volume of the loaf is measured using a system of displacement. The loaf of bread is put into the bottom of this device, and canola seeds fall all around it. The marks on the side indicate the volume of the loaf.

Dr. Miller then cuts open the loaf and looks at crumb grain. She can determine how the cells are aligned, if they’re round or oval, and how thick the cell wall is. This tells her if the flour is strong or weak and the strength of the dough.

Tortilla Testing

The tortilla market in the U.S. and abroad is significant and growing. The properties of good quality tortilla flours vary from those of good quality bread flours. Many of the wheat varieties being grown on significant acreage in Kansas are not ideal for pan bread production. Identifying other products in which these varieties will perform well will increase the marketability of Kansas wheat.

Kansas wheat producers need to become more aware of the need to supply high quality grain in order to remain competitive in the world marketplace. Guidance on preferred varieties to grow in order to improve the quality of the Kansas wheat crop is critical.

The Wheat Quality Lab is also looking at the same varieties and screening them for their tortilla making varieties. The properties to make a good tortilla are different from the properties needed to make a good bread. Some of the new varieties may not make good bread, but they might be great for tortillas.

Photo: Tortillas are scored based on diameter, thickness, and opacity.

Wheat Quality Council

The Wheat Quality Lab also tests wheats for the Wheat Quality Council. These samples have been in a breeder’s program for 10-12 years, and are the premier lines that are either very close to release or have already been released. These tests are open to all public and private breeders who may submit a check sample, which is the baseline or control sample, and one or two premier varieties. New varieties should meet or exceed the check. The samples are sent to several labs which use their own procedures to test how the flour performs. Breeders are able to evaluate how the flour from their varieties performs using different baking procedures. This gives them a better real world industry view on how their varieties will perform.

Genetic Mapping

Dr. Miller is proposing an additional project for the upcoming year. Researchers have been collecting genetic mapping of the genes that affect agronomic traits, but little has been done on mapping genes that affect quality. They can map genes and test quality so they can identify which genes control bake volume, mix time, water absorption, etc. The wheat samples change every year because of the environment. The Wheat Quality Lab is already doing tests on samples that have good agronomic characteristics, but they’re never testing those with poor agronomic traits because they are discarded before being sent to the lab.

There may be varieties with excellent bread baking qualities but poor agronomic characteristics. Miller’s project proposes to test some of these “rejects,” as she calls them in order to assist in mapping genes that affect quality. They need to test as many samples as they can in order to have a more complete data set.

In the future, breeders may be able to use this data to select genes that provide excellent baking qualities in addition to pest resistance, drought tolerance, yield and any number of other agronomic traits.


Dr. Miller and the Wheat Quality Lab are able to assist in wheat marketing efforts by Kansas Wheat, U.S. Wheat Associates, Wheat Quality Council, K-State Cooperative Extension, International Grains Program, and other regional wheat associations. This is essential to expanding the marketability for Kansas wheat.

Recent Variety Results

Popular wheat varieties grown on 0.2 percent or more of the seeded acres in Kansas in crop year 2014 and several newly released varieties were evaluated using laboratory milling and baking tests. End-use quality for white pan bread production was categorized as most desirable, acceptable, or less desirable using the Wheat Quality Council’s recommended wheat and flour quality targets. Results from 2014 have just been published. Dr. Miller found that the most desirable varieties for milling and bread baking quality were Jagalene, Jagger, and Overley. While the majority of the lines provided acceptable quality, a few were categorized as less desirable. These included Above, Everest, Hitch, T153, and TAM 110.