Wavin' wheat named after OSU legends

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Gallagher, Iba, Smith, Ann, Pete and Spirit Rider.

When you see these names, you may think they’re references to various Oklahoma State University legends. And while partially true, in this case it’s not in the traditional way.

Brett Carver, an award winning wheat breeder in OSU’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, brings these famous Cowboy legends from their respective athletic and academic fields into fields across the country -- literally.

OSU has a wheat improvement team that breeds various types of wheat varieties in eight different testing sites throughout the state. The research for these varieties are done at the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, located in Stillwater, as well as other locations.

This research and development process takes about 10 to 12 years, but when done, a certain type of wheat is chosen and ready to be marketed. This marketing process is what brings OSU legends into waving wheat fields across the nation.

“As soon as I see an experimental line with commercial potential, the marketing gears begin to turn,” Carver said.

Every name chosen for each wheat variety produced over the years relates to the state of Oklahoma -- especially OSU -- in a thoughtful and intricate manner. This naming process is so thoughtful that it begins about one to three years before a variety of seed is released.

The stories of how each seed variety got its name show how in-depth this naming process can be.

One of OSU’s newest wheat varieties, Baker’s Ann, is named after the wife of OSU president Burns Hargis, Ann, who is also known as the “First Cowgirl.”

“Burns and Ann came down to visit this facility one day, and they’ve always been great supporters of us,” said Jeff Wright, production and operations coordinator for the Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks. “Then Burns said something along the lines of, ‘Boy, it would be great if we could have a wheat variety named after the First Cowgirl.’

"And so we did.”

Some of the names also reflect moments.

In 2012, OSU released the wheat variety “Gallagher,” which is named for longtime Cowboy wrestling coach Ed Gallagher. The wheat was well known because of its yield potential, resistance to some bugs -- namely Hessian flies -- and increase in size.

Five years later, OSU released another wrestling-themed wheat named “Smith’s Gold,” which was named after current OSU wrestling coach John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. This variety was similar to Gallagher, but had even stronger genetics and stats.

According to Carver, the similarities in these wheats are intentional.

“The name Smith’s Gold was chosen to remind producers it carries forward the strong tradition of Gallagher, just as OSU’s current wrestling program led by head coach John Smith has carried forward the strong tradition established by Coach Edward C. Gallagher,” Carver said in a report.

Other varieties, such as Skydance and Bentley, aren’t necessarily household names, but still carry deep meanings.

“Skydance,” which was released in 2018, is a nod to the state of Oklahoma, not OSU. Skydance Bridge is a famous bridge on Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City. The bridge was built in 2012 and is modeled after the Oklahoma state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

“The Skydance Bridge is a landmark in Oklahoma City and this particular variety has already been outside of our state,” Carver said. “We wanted to ensure that Oklahoma connection, because we think it’s going to go places beyond the state.”

“Bentley,” which was released in 2016, was named after one of the godfathers of OSU’s agricultural department: Walter Dimmitt Bentley. He was the first director of extension at OSU, and started working that position in 1914. While this seed was released in 2016, the name was chosen in 2014 to coincide with the extension’s 100-year anniversary.

When something is named in business, merchandising is bound to follow. Every wheat variety that has a creative name has a hat to coincide with it.

“I kind of help with some of the cap designs and have some input on some other things,” Jeff Wright said.

The hat that was given out for the “Pete Wheat” variety features Pistol Pete chewing on a piece of straw -- in true cowboy fashion. 

The “Bakers Ann” cap features a loaf of bread, two wheat stems and “Baker’s Ann” written across the bottom. It’s also colored in Ann Hargis’ favorite color: orange. 

Wright said with these creative names and designs comes high expectations.

“I think people have come to kind of expect something when we release a new one,” Wright said.

news.ed@ocolly.com