By developing new spring wheat varieties with exceptional milling and baking characteristics, Kim Kidwell hopes to create a domestic demand for Washington wheat so it is milled and baked in the Northwest instead of being exported into increasingly competitive foreign markets.

Currently, between 80 and 90 percent of Washington’s annual wheat crop is exported rather than used domestically, says Kidwell, who is a spring wheat breeder and associate professor of crop and soil sciences at Washington State University.

Bakers look for a number of different characteristics in wheat, including water absorption, gluten strength, and protein content. Different levels of each characteristic can dramatically affect baking quality.

“Consistency is key,” says Kidwell. “Manufacturers need products to bake to a similar size and quality each time. A loaf of bread is worthless to a manufacturer if it doesn’t fit in its packaging.”

One of the new wheat varieties created by Kidwell is called Zak. Released by WSU for public use in October 2000, Zak is a high-yielding variety that also makes excellent bread and cookies. Nabisco’s bakery in Portland has expressed an interest in using Zak.