CSU’s wheat breeding program is one of the largest of 27 university programs in the nation, thanks to the support from the Colorado wheat industry.
“The wheat industry in Colorado saw a need to have CSU have its own (wheat breeding) program,” said Scott Haley, professor and current head of the wheat breeding program at CSU.
Byrd Curtis established CSU’s 50-year-long history of wheat breeding in 1963.
He answered the call to conduct research on wheat production, pest resistance and quality, as well as develop improved varieties of wheat for wheat production in Colorado and across the high plains region.
Because of what he did for CSU and it’s wheat breeding program, he was honored by Haley and the rest of the program by naming their newest variety of wheat ‘Byrd’ in 2011.
The Byrd crop will have its first big production year in 2014. It has shown about an 11 percent yield improvement over the previously dominant variety in Colorado, a significant advancement in the wheat world, according to Haley.
“I feel so honored that my name is hooked on to that one,” Curtis said.
Curtis’ wife, Eloise, who has traveled the world with him on his wheat breeding endeavors, remembers the day her husband was told of this honor.
“He’s very modest. He told me ‘don’t tell anybody’,” Mrs. Curtis said. “I told everybody about it.”
Curtis said he was “elated.”
“He was pretty honored by it, and it was nice to be able to do that for him because he is a really nice guy,” Haley said.
Curtis is still very passionate about the wheat breeding program at CSU and wheat breeding in general, according to Haley.
Curtis and Haley meet for breakfast once every few months to talk about the current topics and issues of the wheat breeding industry.
“I want to be updated about what’s going on,” Curtis said. “It’s a lot of fun. We never get through talking.”
Curtis also frequents the department seminars and meets with some of the students occasionally to build his knowledge of the advancing industry.
“Back in the day when he was working there wasn’t a lot of interest in wheat,” Haley said. “He’s excited to see all this interest in wheat.”
From Curtis’ interest and want to give back to the university stemmed the Byrd and Eloise Curtis Graduate Student Scholarship Endowment, a $25,000 endowment established in 2004.
“We talked about it quite a bit, in fact, it was on my mind for several years before we did it,” Curtis said while his wife nodded approvingly.
The university picks a superior graduate student pursuing wheat sciences or soil and crop sciences to receive the scholarship and to meet with the Curtis’ several times throughout the year to get to know them better.
Sue Latshaw is a past recipient of the scholarship and a graduate student in soil and crop sciences.
“The fact that he and his wife have funded this scholarship is a testament to how important they believe in educating plant breeders for the future of food security around the world,” Latshaw said.
Long retired, Curtis now enjoys gardening, volunteering and golfing when he isn’t serving as an unpaid affiliate professor of agronomy at CSU.
Collegian Green Beat Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.