The town of Rothsay until now has been known for its 13-foot-high statue of a prairie chicken.
It can now add a variety of pest-resistant, sturdy spring wheat variety to that list of the town's notables.
Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences announced the newest hard red spring wheat variety will be named MN-Rothsay, honoring the small town in northwestern Minnesota on the road between Fergus Falls and Fargo.
The town of Rothsay (population 498) is the latest in a number of towns invoked by wheat seed researchers at the agricultural college in St. Paul. Like far-flung stars named for astronomers, or a species of algae honoring poet Amanda Gorman, plant breeders at the ag college have long honored small towns across Minnesota's wheat belt, from Marshall to Murdock.
With a Scottish name and history of Norwegian immigrants, the town's surrounding region has long been a northern wheat hotbed.
"In the early days, everybody was doing wheat," said Vicky Anderson, a research assistant with the Otter Tail County Historical Society. "You're right in the flats of the Red River Valley."
The MN-Rothsay variety, which will be distributed beginning next spring by the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association (MCIA), is expected to replace the Linkert variety, which has reigned supreme for wheat growers since 2015.
On a plot of land in rural Le Sueur County, farmers from around the area gathered on Monday to see experimental wheat patches growing from various seeds, including Rothsay. Green patches, like Chia pets, rose in various heights. The wind blew over the field, flicking the tassels golden.
Jochum Wiersma, the small grains specialist with University of Minnesota Extension, stood over the strands of wheat he helped develop, pointing out predecessors to Rothsay. He ran his hand over shocks of a variety called "Lang" in honor of a past MCIA president.
"The complaint [with Lang] was that in the northern part, Lang gets really tall," said Wiersma, which, "is funny because 'Lang' is Dutch for tall."
Across the field, Richard Stangler, a farmer from nearby Kilkenny, compared the height of wheat varieties in the hot sun. While wheat is predominantly a northwestern Minnesota affair, he's seen increasing interest in the southern half of the state.
Stangler said the demand for wheat — driven primarily by cover crop acres and landscapers — has gone up in the nine years since he first started planting the small grain.
"The first year we sold one-half a semi-load of cover crop," said Stangler. "Last year, we were at nine semi-loads."
In the early 1990s, wheat acres in Minnesota and the region were devastated by a plague of scab, a microscopic fungi. Now, crops have that disease-resistance genetically baked in. MN-Rothsay, which began as the less poetic MN15005-4, will have strong stalk strength, like Linkert, but it'll be a bit more resistant to pests.
"All varieties are compromises," said Wiersma.
Creating new wheat varieties starts in a greenhouse but soon moves to one of the 16 test fields across the state, from Lamberton to Crookston. A variety can take up to a decade to move from lab to a farmer's field.
After a cold and wet spring, Minnesota wheat farmers have finally seeded their fields. According to the USDA's weekly crop report, fully 100% of wheat has emerged. Although crops in the latest variety's namesake region aren't the bumper products of early years.
Brian Marquardt, a native of Rothsay, works as a sales agronomist for Maple River Grain & Agronomy and says wheat used to dominate the fields surrounding town before softer prices and high land rents forced farmers to switch to corn and soybeans.
"For the last few years, wheat didn't pencil out on paper," said Marquardt.
But for those who still raise certified wheat, the new breed is a nod to his hometown's legacy.
"I think it's a big honor," said Marquardt. "It gives Rothsay a little more recognition."