From Lab to Loaf

Not every wheat farmer can see and handle the flour made from their harvest, let alone taste a loaf of bread made from that wheat. But that was exactly the experience of one participant in the 2024 Kansas Wheat Leadership Program recently conducted by Kansas Wheat.

Neil Bekemeyer, a wheat farmer from Washington, was one of eight participants in the second annual program. He sent in a sample from his bins ahead of the two-day event, which featured a kernel-to-loaf look at the Kansas wheat industry. Throughout the program, that sample was used as an example of how grain moves from the field to the mill to the end consumer. That direct connection was unique, but the hands-on, small-class experience is exactly the design intended for the program.

“In the Kansas Wheat Leadership Program, we try to cover all aspects of the wheat industry from breeding to milling,” said Shayna DeGroot, Kansas Wheat director of membership and government affairs. “We covered the industry from start to finish for producers to learn more about how their wheat plant is bred, how new varieties are developed and what happens when their wheat leaves their farm.”

The leadership program took place in Manhattan at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center on March 6 and 7. The Farm Credit Associations of Kansas sponsored the event, making it free for all attendees.

The first morning kicked off with a Wheat 101 presentation by Aaron Harries, Kansas Wheat vice president of research and operations, followed by a tour of the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center. Marsha Boswell, Kansas Wheat vice president of communications, rounded out the morning by imparting the importance of sharing the farmers’ story and discussing the consumer-focused site

After lunch, leadership program participants received more technical information about wheat physiology and modern wheat breeding techniques from K-State wheat breeder Allan Fritz. Romulo Lollato, K-State associate professor of wheat and forage production, provided information on how yield and protein are set in a wheat crop.

Aaron Lueger, young, beginning, small relationship officer at Frontier Farm Credit, discussed farm financing programs. Dan Maltby, principal of Maltby Risk Management, LLC, shared insights on global wheat supply and demand while DeGroot discussed farm policy issues related to the wheat industry.

Finally, Asif Mohammad, chief scientist with Heartland Plant Innovations, conducted a hands-on demonstration of wheat emasculation — the process by which scientists remove the upper part of a wheat floret to better facilitate pollination. This process is an important part of developing double haploids — HPI’s technical specialty that substantially reduces the time and cost of developing new wheat varieties.

“The participants got to emasculate the wheat and the HPI staff showed them how they would pollinate the plant and the other steps involved in the double haploid process,” DeGroot said.

Day two of the program focused on wheat milling, with an introduction to the topic given by Paul Blodgett, program/project manager of K-State’s Hal Ross Flour Mill, followed by a tour of the mill itself. Kathy Brower, lab manager of Grain Craft​’s Innovation & Quality Lab, located in the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, discussed the process that takes grain to flour.

“This program teaches participants what happens in the wheat industry from start to finish, allowing them to have hands-on learning from some of the most renowned professionals in the industry,” DeGroot said. “They really got to see why quality is so important, what millers are looking for when they are purchasing and other factors from start to finish so they can further understand why there is a push for certain characteristics or why some varieties are more popular.”

If you are interested in participating in the 2025 Kansas Wheat Leadership Program, please e-mail Shayna DeGroot at [email protected]. But even before next year’s program, visit to join KAWG and keep on top of the latest developments and opportunities in the Kansas wheat industry.