Wheat Industry Celebrates 10th Anniversary of the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center

Traditionally, the 10th anniversary is celebrated with a gift symbolizing the strength and resilience of a relationship. Those traits describe well the ties between Kansas wheat farmers and the public and private research partners that come together at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan for the betterment of the wheat industry. 

The halls of the Center were filled with cheer in mid-December as these partners celebrated the 10th anniversary of the state’s single-largest, farmer investment in wheat research. The open house and holiday party also recognized the successful conclusion of the Fields Forward campaign supporting the Kansas Wheat Commission Research Foundation and unveiled a brand-new virtual tour of the facility. 

“I don’t think we could have imagined the relationships and the projects that would have resulted from the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center 10 years ago when the building just opened,” said Aaron Harries, Kansas Wheat vice president of research and operations. “It’s exciting to know that it’s exceeded expectations, and we anticipate even bigger things in the next couple of decades.”

The Kansas Wheat Innovation Center was built by the Kansas Wheat Commission, through the Kansas wheat checkoff, to get improved wheat varieties into the hands of farmers faster at a time when private research in wheat was limited. The Center was built on land owned by Kansas State University; the Kansas Wheat Commission has a 50-year lease on the property. 

Construction on the $15 million Kansas Wheat Innovation Center began in October 2011, and the facility was completed in November 2012. An additional four greenhouse bays were completed in spring 2018. Today, the facility boasts more than 10,000 square feet of office space, 15,000 square feet of laboratory space and 23,000 square feet of greenhouse space. 

“The Kansas Wheat Innovation Center is a great story,” Harries said. “It’s really from the ground up about how farmers were telling the board of directors they wanted more investment in wheat research because they see the tangible results of that from the new varieties that are released.”

“The leadership of Kansas Wheat at that time really went out on a limb and decided to invest a large amount of producer dollars in the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center. Research was the main motivator, having a public face for the wheat organizations and the research that was being done. And it has just led to bigger and better projects.” 

The Kansas Wheat Innovation Center is home to public and private wheat breeding programs conducting cutting-edge research on advanced wheat breeding, end-use quality and ancient wheat relatives, in addition to consumer outreach. While each project has its individual aims, they have a unified goal — using advanced techniques in wheat research to improve yield and quality of new wheat varieties while shortening the time needed to develop those varieties. 

“In 20 years, or even in 10 years, from this anniversary, we’ll be talking about how we’re developing novel traits here in the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, about wheat varieties that result from work in the center that are specialized with nutritional value or other features,” Harries said.

There is no doubt the future of Kansas wheat has excellent support, especially as the 10th anniversary also celebrated the successful conclusion of Fields Forward, the campaign for a sustainable wheat future by the Kansas Wheat Commission Research Foundation. 

The KWCRW was established in 2011 as the official fundraising organization for the Kansas Wheat Commission. The Foundation works to raise private dollars to combine with public funds for the advancement of wheat research, including the accelerated release of wheat varieties. The Fields Forward Campaign was launched in January 2019 and accepted many types of gifts to support wheat research, including cash, stock transfers, donations of grain and deferred gifts such as will bequests.

While the doors to the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center are open during regular business hours, anyone can take a virtual tour of the facility and its research projects anywhere at any time, thanks to a new virtual tour unveiled during the open house. Check out what the partners at the Center have accomplished over the last 10 years and what they have planned for the decade ahead at https://innovation.kswheat.com or watch a video overview at https://www.youtube.com/kansaswheat.