Breeding Programs for Specialty and Field Crops
You cannot get farther west in the continental United States than Oregon, yet it has been a state for longer than all of its western neighbors except California. The Beaver State was founded in 1859 but before that, it was the Oregon Territory, which included Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. In 1855 when it was still a territory, the capital of Oregon was Corvallis, where Oregon State University (OSU) is located. OSU–home to the Beavers–is Oregon’s only land-grant university (LGU) and the next stop on our tour of the United States’ LGU system.
OSU has a well-established history as an agricultural research university and, in 1873, was the first university on the west coast to offer agricultural studies, according to the Oregon Historical Society. Today OSU conducts variety development research and plant breeding in several areas from specialty crops like hops to hazelnuts to field crops like wheat and barley. The university’s agricultural research mirrors the incredibly diverse agricultural economy of the state. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) reports that there are 220 agricultural commodities produced in the state. The Top 20 commodity list captures the diversity of production quite well.
Due in part to the diverse agricultural economy of Oregon, OSU has 11 Branch Stations in addition to its Corvallis-based Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. In the video below, the OSU North Willamette Research and Extension Center–20 miles away from Portland–provides some perspective on the breadth of the agricultural research network in Oregon and the depth of agricultural research in the Willamette Valley.
In small grains, OSU’s Wheat Breeding Program supports an industry that produced nearly 50 million bushels of wheat valued at $283 million in 2019. Additionally, Oregon’s barley industry is ranked ninth in the U.S., producing 2.73 million bushels valued at $9.43 million in 2019 and supported by OSU’s Barley Breeding Program.
Oregon’s burgeoning hazelnut industry produces virtually all hazelnuts in the U.S. In fact, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) does not even list any other states as producers. In 2019, Oregon produced 49,000 tons of the nut valued at $94 million. Here is an informative overview of OSU’s Hazelnut Breeding Program.
Given Medius Ag’s history in the potato industry, we must include potatoes in this post. Oregon’s potato industry is ranked fourth nationally by volume at 25 million hundredweight (cwt) and sixth by value at $234 million. OSU’s Potato Breeding Program collaborates closely with other potato breeding programs in the Pacific Northwest.
OSU is also home to breeding programs for hops, meadowfoam, small fruits, and vegetables. Last and certainly not least, OSU’s Ornamental Plant Breeding Program supports the state’s most valuable agricultural commodity: greenhouse and nursery.
Just as the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley did nearly 200 years ago, OSU is breaking new ground on plant breeding research to take on new challenges and pursue new opportunities.