Breed to Feed

Crop scientists create the plants that keep Oregon farmers in business

FootprintsOregon’s $5 billion-a-year agriculture industry needs new breeds of grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Some food crops become vulnerable to disease and pests. Others must evolve to match the changing needs of farmers and consumers.

Oregon State University plant breeders have a long legacy of creating new food crops with better yields, healthier nutritional content and enhanced flavors. Breeders emphasize sustainable farming practices that help the environment and boost growers’ bottom lines.

This doesn’t happen overnight: Designing new varieties of wheat, raspberries and other crops can take a decade to go from the back of an envelope to your dinner plate. But OSU sees 5 billion reasons to keep new crops coming to a field near you.

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Tomatoes
The Indigo Rose tomato has a striking purple pigment – and that’s no accident. OSU bred its skin to contain high levels of anthocyanins, compounds with potential antioxidant health benefits.

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Nuts
When Eastern Filbert Blight crippled Oregon’s hazelnut trees in the 1990s, OSU rescued the industry. Among the newly resistant varieties is Wepster, a high-yielding tree that produces a petite nut, perfect for the chocolate industry.

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Potatoes
OSU has a storied history spawning new spuds, including the Crimson Red, Purple Pelisse and Sage Russet. Bred to resist fungi, insects, viruses and weeds, OSU tubers reduce chemical, fertilizer and water use.

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Small fruits
OSU and research partners have bred small fruits for nearly 100 years. New varieties of raspberry, strawberry and blackberry continue to emerge at Experiment Stations across the state. The results have been fruitful: Together these sweet treats add $140 million to Oregon communities annually.

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Grains
Grain growers must stay a step ahead of pests and diseases to keep yields high and meet market demands. In 2013, farmers had their first crack at Kaseberg and Ladd, two new soft white winter wheats. Meanwhile, OSU is testing more than 10,000 experimental varieties of barley. A new variety, known as Verdant, recently hit seed catalogs.

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