Agri Business

Pusa’s new soft wheat variety to cut import, make bakery producers Atmanirbhar

Prabhudatta Mishra | | Updated on: May 26, 2022

Pusa Soft Wheat 1 has a productivity of over 5 tonnes/hectare with 11.5 per cent protein content

Indian bakery makers, who import wheat at double the price of domestic rates, will soon become Atmanirbhar as scientists at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has developed the country’s first soft wheat variety named Pusa Soft Wheat 1 (HD 3443), which is suitable for growing in all producing States.

“While Pusa Soft Wheat 1 (HD 3443) is already registered with Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority, the next line (upgraded version) is also ready,” Anju Mahendru Singh, Principal Scientist and head of Grain Quality Laboratory in Division of Genetics at IARI told BusinessLine. Singh had led a team of scientists to develop this variety which took nearly a decade to be developed .

India had imported about 3,108 tonnes of soft wheat at a cost of 4,226/quintal in 2021-22 as against 2,147 tonnes at ₹3,797/quintal in 2020-21, industry sources said.

The Pusa Soft Wheat 1 has a productivity of 4.5 tonnes per hectare in Delhi with 11.5 per cent protein and gluten level of 8.9 per cent, Singh said. The strength of the gluten is “weak” and it may vary from location to location based on climate variance, she said.

A challenge for scientists

It was a challenge for the scientists to match the current level of productivity while developing the soft wheat as yield is normally lower in this variety. Yield of Australian soft wheat (spring) variety is about 1.5 tonnes per hectare and US soft (winter) variety is about 4.5 tonnes per hectare. But the US and Australian crop takes 8-9 months to mature whereas Indian crop takes only 125 days.

An earlier experiment of soft wheat named HS 490, developed in 2008-09 by IARI scientists, did not succeed as the yield level was lower and suitable only for growing in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Soft wheat requires less grinding force as its flour has smaller particle size and absorbs less water when kneaded into dough. . Soft wheat products like cake and biscuits, even noodles, need less water to be absorbed by the flour for the best quality.

“There was an ICAR-funded project approved around 2012. Indo-Australian programme on marker assisted wheat breeding where quality was a very small aspect in it. Since bakery industry was growing at around 6 per cent at that time and they need this speciality wheat, I thought we should have a targetted research like the Australians do,” Singh said.

To develop the variety, visual grain selection in segregating lines obtained from International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), were made and further selections were made using molecular marker technology to identify lines with grain softness and gluten strength. “We are also using Australian soft wheat germplasm to transfer this trait into our released varieties,” Singh said. Narpinder Singh of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, was also one of the collaborators in the project and expert on food technology.

“After we shortlisted our lines and published those research, some companies approached us. One company said it requires 35,000 tonnes per year if such variety is developed,” she said, adding several others have also shown keen interest to get this variety. Since IARI has a scheme of contributory research, where private companies can fund the project and get the rights for the technology for some years, it is expected that soft variety will be accepted by them, experts have said.

There is also a big opportunity for flour millers to export wheat flour of India-grown soft wheat to the Middle Eastern countries who also get it from Australia like Indian bakery makers do the sourcing.

Published on May 25, 2022
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