By Alex Lessard, Kansas Wheat Alliance Communications Intern
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of Kansas State University’s hard red winter wheat variety, Jagger. This variety has made an impact in several countries, states and individual farms, since its release in 1994. Not only was it one of the most widely-planted varieties, but one of the best parent varieties as well.
Dr. Rollin Sears, a retired wheat breeder for K-State and later AgriPro/Syngenta, made the initial cross for Jagger and several other widely-accepted varieties during his career.
“When I came to Kansas, I noticed that most of the time wheat never ripens in Kansas. It usually dies because of the drought or high temperature. So, I was looking for and making crosses to try to identify wheats that would actually ripen and not die. Jagger was that variety.”
Jagger was named after Minneapolis, Kansas, wheat farmer, Joe Jagger. Prior to that time, K-State had never named a wheat variety after a wheat farmer before, since they were always named after locations. Sears wanted to name the variety after Jagger, but wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do.
“I asked four or five key wheat breeders, after Joe’s passing, and all of them started to cry because they felt so affectionate for Joe and realized the impact he’d had on wheat, so I knew it was the right decision,” said Sears on naming the variety after Jagger.
Over the past few years, Jagger has been marketed by the Kansas Wheat Alliance (KWA). This variety may not be seen in many fields across the state as Jagger anymore, but it lives on in the pedigree of several current varieties. Those varieties include K-State’s Everest, Joe – KWA’s newest hard white wheat variety released in 2015 – and Tatanka, one of KWA’s newest hard red wheats released this fall. In addition to having a high percentage of pedigrees worldwide, it was also part of the foundation for wheat breeding.
Sears explained the moment he chose the cross for Jagger.
“I could take you to the exact spot where Jagger was selected at Ashland Bottoms. It was just one of those things where you’re just walking along and you’re looking at thousands of rows of wheat and then, all of a sudden, you come to this row, and it’s like love at first sight when you see it, and you know that this is going to be a successful variety of wheat,” said Sears.
Jagger was planted in two foundation fields in its first year. Nine years later, it reached its peak and had nearly 35,000 acres of Certified seed production with 1.3 million bushels of Certified seed produced that year. Even this year, Certified Jagger is still being produced. During the span of 22 years, over 10 million bushels of Jagger Certified seed has been sold in Kansas alone.
In the first spring after Jagger’s release, a series of killing frosts wiped through Kansas, severely injuring many of the Jagger fields. During that time, several farmers had started to give up on Jagger, but after a cool spring with a few good rains, Jagger fields made an astounding recovery. After that, Jagger had a series of good years with successful yields.
Sears recalled knowing that Jagger would be a good variety because he noticed there was something special about this variety, but he never imagined that it would be such a popular variety, accepted in so many different places.
Jagger’s strengths include a fast establishment in the fall, exceptional baking quality, good performance on low-pH soils, very good drought tolerance and moderate resistance to tan spot. On the other hand, Jagger had a few weaknesses. This variety had been known to shatter, have below-average straw strength, is susceptible to leaf rust and Hessian fly, moderately susceptible to stripe rust and had below-average test weight.
This popular variety has been successful across all the Central and Southern Plains. It also has good tolerance to drought and wheat streak mosaic virus in the region.
At the Borlaug Summit convention in 2014, a farmer from the Republic of Georgia, a small country between Europe and Asia, told Sears he had wanted to thank him for a long time because Jagger had saved his farm.
In Jagger’s lifespan, it was planted as a significant variety in 12 countries. It was a hard working variety for farmers because it was dependable and didn’t give up. At one point, Jagger was planted on nearly every acre in south central Kansas.
“It’s humbling to know that at one point you held all the Jagger that existed in the world in the palm of your hand. Then the seed was increased and grown by everybody and got up to over 15 million acres,” explained Sears.
The Kansas Wheat Alliance is a not-for-profit organization formed by wheat producers, researchers, and seed marketers with the goal of maximizing value for wheat farmers by promoting responsible management of new wheat varieties developed by Kansas State University and other wheat-breeding programs. Royalties are used to support wheat research that enhances the profitability of wheat producers.