This blog post contains information from OSU Current Report 2135 Protein Content of Winter Wheat Varieties in Oklahoma. A complete pdf version of the report with a brief explanation of sampling procedures can be found at www.wheat.okstate.edu.
The grass always seems to be greener on the other side when it comes to wheat protein. In a low protein year, everyone is scrambling to find higher protein wheat to blend. In a high protein year, such as this one, the same low protein wheat that was considered marginally acceptable the year before might command a slight premium. While wheat protein is important to end users, wheat protein is just one of many attributes which determine end-use quality and marketability of winter wheat. In fact, some millers and bakers would argue that functionality of wheat protein is more important than the quantity of protein. While varietal differences commonly exist, differences in wheat protein among environments are generally much larger than differences among varieties. Factors such as nitrogen fertility and drought stress, for example, can sharply impact final protein content of the grain, and most producers are better served focusing on good agronomic practices than slight genetic differences in wheat protein content.
To reflect environmental impacts on wheat grain protein content, 2014 wheat variety test data are reported by variety and location in Table 1. The 18.5% average wheat grain protein for the Thomas location is a good example of how fertility and environment can impact protein content. Soil tests at the time of sowing revealed 141 lb/acre of residual nitrogen available, which should be enough to produce a 70 bu/acre wheat crop. Due to extreme drought, however, average grain yield at Thomas was 13 bu/acre. Under these circumstances, wheat plants were able to pull large amounts of nitrogen from the soil and move this nitrogen to the developing grain. Grain size was reduced and grains were shriveled due to drought, thus resulting in abnormally high wheat protein. A similar situation was reported for Altus in 2013.
In Table 2 we reported the wheat grain protein content as a deviation from location mean for each variety, as this provides easier comparison of wheat grain protein among varieties across locations. Billings, for example, is a variety with solidly positive deviation from location means, indicating it has a tendency for above-average grain protein content. Iba, on the other hand, has negative deviations from location means, indicating a tendency for lower than average grain protein content. Adequate nitrogen fertility as recommended by a recent soil test or sensor-based nitrogen management program can help ensure that varieties such as Iba produce grain protein within the acceptable range for end-use customers. Iba is also a prime example of how protein data can sometimes be misused, as the functionality of the protein in Iba is above average, which can offset lower absolute grain protein content.