David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
University of Idaho is aggregating decades of crop variety trial data from Idaho, Oregon and Washington, creating a database to help researchers and growers identify trends and pinpoint varieties that perform best over time at various locations.

A team led by Julia Piaskowski, director of statistical programs with U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, has compiled 2,166 wheat variety trial records from 69 locations, dating back 22 years.

The unique database, called the Western Agricultural Variety Explorer (WAVE), will soon be expanded to also include several years of barley, cool-season legume and canola variety trials. Data from the additional crops has already been collected and curated, but web tools must be built to sort and filter the records before they can go live on the database.

WAVE is geared toward meeting the needs of crop researchers, but the team has also released a grower-focused free phone app.

Other collaborators on the project include Juliet Marshall, Kurtis Schroeder and Jim Davis of U of I; Olga Walsh, formerly of U of I; Ryan Graebner of Oregon State University; Clark Neely and Stephen Jones of Washington State University; and Steve Van Vleet, formerly of WSU.

Research programs such as U of I, OSU and WSU invest considerable resources in conducting variety trials, and WAVE aims to make certain the results are accessible and pooled together to tell a more complete story. WAVE users can sort information down to the individual plot level.

“They run high-quality field trials producing high-quality data, and they’re expensive,” Piaskowski said. “I’ve referred to it as a data goldmine in the past and I still feel that way about it.”

The WAVE team has curated gigabytes of data, recording 30 traits per variety, such as yield, protein, plant height and days to heading. In addition to shedding light on performance of individual varieties, the data should provide insights into broader questions, such as how climate change is affecting wheat performance.

Much of the team’s time has been spent poring through variety trial records, ensuring they use consistent terminology and variety names. The database will be updated heading forward as new trial results are published.

“We’re not managing our data optimally, and when you’re not doing that you risk losing it,” Piaskowski said. “It ends up on hard drives that nobody can access, or people make mistakes in data curation that are not caught, and those perpetuate in the final products.”

The grower app omits records from experimental, numbered crop lines, which aren’t commercially available for growers to plant.

Marshall, a plant pathologist who heads U of I’s Department of Plant Sciences and oversees eastern Idaho cereal trials, believes the app will help growers find varieties that consistently excel in different geographic areas and field conditions over several years. She’s also confident that WAVE will open new doors for researchers.

“One of the interesting things is potentially if you were looking at climate data and needed to make correlations with yield, heading date or lodging, there’s an ability to use a specific database and correlate that with other things a climate scientist might be interested in,” Marshall said. “Having this dataset available online will improve its accessibility so researchers across the country, and even the world, will have access to it.”       

Work on WAVE began in 2020 when the Idaho Wheat Commission awarded U of I a one-year, $28,869 grant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) awarded additional funding toward the project via a three-year, $500,000 grant.

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