ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, U.S. — Twenty one millers and bakers in 16 different countries tested the quality of samples from 10 separate varieties of hard red winter wheat this year, U.S. Wheat Associates said on Feb. 24.

This extensive testing occurs annually as part of the Overseas Varietal Analysis (OVA) program, operated by USW, to determine how varieties of wheat perform for international customers. The results of the program are used by state wheat commissions to develop recommended variety lists for farmers and set quality targets for U.S. wheat breeders.

“USW is listening to our overseas customers to determine which varieties have the milling and baking quality that is best for their specific products,” said Steve Wirsching, director of USW’s West Coast Office. “With nearly 50% of our wheat exported each year, it makes sense to encourage farmers to grow the wheat our customers want.”

Wirsching presented the OVA program results for hard red winter wheat at last week’s Wheat Quality Council meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S. Hard red winter wheat samples included in this year’s program were submitted by wheat breeders in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. Varieties were milled domestically, then shipped overseas for evaluation in French bread, steam bread and white pan bread.

Founded in 1938, the Wheat Quality Council works to improve the value of U.S. wheat classes by evaluating varieties before they are released for end-use quality in cooperation with domestic millers and bakers. The Wheat Quality Council concentrates testing on varieties under development by both private and public wheat breeders. In contrast, the OVA program tests newly released and popular wheat varieties with international customers.

For the 2010 wheat crop, wheat breeders in the Great Plains states have sent samples of popular wheat varieties — used as quality checks by the Wheat Quality Council — and newly released hard red winter wheat varieties to the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University for milling and testing. The inclusion of newly released varieties gives overseas cooperators a snapshot into potential wheat quality for the next few years. The OVA also provides an opportunity for international millers and bakers to provide feedback on varieties that may not meet certain quality specifications before U.S. production is widespread. This focus on quality is crucial to maintaining and expanding markets around the world.

“The OVA program and the Wheat Quality Council are working hard to produce the highest quality wheat possible,” said Ben Handcock, executive vice-president of the Wheat Quality Council. “There is no government agency in this country that does this work, but we do it very well.”