WSU researcher harvests high honor

After more than 22 years developing wheat varieties for Washington State University, Steve Lyon has earned one of the highest honors in his profession — his name on a grain.

It happens to be a barley strain, but Lyon, a senior scientific assistant in plant breeding at the WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center, doesn’t seem to mind.

“The techs, we kind of work behind the scenes. We’re like the offensive line on a football team, or a catcher in baseball,” Lyon said. “To do the work we do and receive honor for the work you do is a great honor. It’s very humbling.”

Along with Steven Jones, the director of the research center and its plant breeding program, Lyon has helped develop six wheat varieties in the last 12 years, a highly accelerated pace for such work.

Lyon said new varieties can take between nine and 12 years to develop.

Fortunately for Lyon, his namesake barley is made of pretty stout stuff.

Formerly known as 05WA-316.K, the variety is made for livestock feed and features plump, covered kernels and a higher yield potential than other varieties grown in Eastern Washington.

It also boasts a strong resistance to stem rust, a fungus that attacks cereals above ground and can turn healthy-looking harvested crops to a black, wilted tangle in weeks, according to the release.

Jones said Lyon was an essential player in developing some of the most successful wheat varieties in the state.