OSU's new hazelnuts resist the tree-killing eastern filbert blight fungus
More than 20 years ago, the future looked bleak for Oregon's hazelnut growers. A disease called eastern filbert blight was threatening to devastate orchards.
OSU set to work, crossbreeding tree varieties for resistance to it. The university has since released 18 cultivars that are resistant. The latest contribution was in 2014 with McDonald, a high-yielding, blight-resistant hazelnut whose size and blanching ability make it ideal for the baking, snack and chocolate industries.
Growers generally don't need to spray these new varieties with fungicides – and that helps their bottom line and the environment. The trees are taking root. A report found that more than half of the 2,730 acres planted between 2009 and 2012 were Jefferson, a variety released by OSU in 2009. Unofficial estimates, however, say the number of new acres during that time was 11,000 to 12,000, with more than half being Jefferson.
The hazelnut is Oregon's official nut. The state grows 99 percent of the U.S. crop. Early reports indicate that Oregon's approximately 650 growers produced $92 million of hazelnuts in 2013 harvested on about 30,000 acres.
Learn more about OSU's hazelnut research with this video.
Sources: Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Marketing Board; USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service; OSU hazelnut breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher.
Wheat diseases such as stripe rust can ruin an entire crop—a major problem for an Oregon crop worth $368 million. Breeding disease resistance into the plants reduces or eliminates the amount of chemical inputs farmers need to spray on diseased crops. However, the viruses and fungi mutate season after season, and act differently in different climates.
Bob Zemetra, OSU professor of plant breeding and genetics, characterizes wheat breeding as an “arms race,” working with more than 11,000 test plots across the state to constantly out-gun mutating pathogens. He and his colleagues are so successful that their varieties are planted by farmers throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho. OSU stock is used to strengthen breeding lines across the country. Oklahoma scientists, for example, are currently using OSU stock to breed stripe rust resistance into their lines.
OSU continues to introduce new varieties to help farmers stay ahead in the arms race. Zemetra released “Norwest Duet” in 2016 and expects to release “OR2121086” in 2017, both exhibiting strong resistance.
Watch this video to learn more about OSU's wheat research.
Sources: OSU wheat breeder Bob Zemetra; Oregon Wheat Commission
New strategies save money and reduce children’s exposure to pesticides
With their cafeterias and grassy sportsfields, schools make attractive homes for rodents, ants, weeds and roaches. That's not good becase some of these pests can trigger asthma -- a condition that afflicts 8 percent of Oregon's children. Custodians have typically used pesticides on these invaders. But dousing them with chemicals can create new health hazards, especially for children whose vulnerable bodies are still developing.
The OSU Extension Service is working to ensure a safe environment for Oregon's school children. Mandated by state law, Extension has drawn up best practices for schools to implement to reduce their pesticide use. The plans use integrated pest management (IPM), which employs chemicals as a last resort and instead aims to eliminate the conditions that attract pests. As part of the law, each school district must designate an IPM coordinator. As of summer 2014, Extension had provided IPM training to coordinators from 189 of Oregon's 197 school districts and all of the state's 17 community colleges.
A 2010 survey of Oregon schools showed just 4 percent of districts had an IPM plan, whereas 75 percent now employ the methods. In addition, 90 percent of schools in 2013 reported using non-chemical pest solutions compared with 66 percent in 2010. More than 70 percent use a low-impact pesticide list compared with just 37 percent in 2010. In addition, specially trained IPM health specialists inspect each of Oregon's 1,200 public K-12 school kitchens twice each year.
Backers say IPM reduces costs. For example, the Anne Arundel district in Maryland reduced its pest control budget from $46,000 to $14,000 after its first year of IPM.
Read more about OSU Extension's IPM program for schools in an article in Oregon's Agricultural Progress magazine.
Sources: National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides; 2013 report The Burden of Asthma in Oregon; Tim Stock, IPM education specialist with OSU Extension.
OSU's Oregon Wine Research Institute addresses industry's needs
Oregon's wine industry is based on producing premium-quality wines, not mass quantities. If wineries want to compete with premium regions around the world, they know that research is necessary to keep them on the cutting edge.
They're getting help from scientists at OSU's Oregon Wine Research Institute. OSU vine expert Patty Skinkis is pursuing a 10-year, statewide study at 16 vineyards to see how pruning grape clusters affects the quality of Pinot noir wine. She's also measuring photosynthesis, soil moisture and nutrients to understand how vineyard management impacts the resulting wine. In a study she conducted on cover crops, she found that grapes from vines surrounded by grass-covered alleyways scored the highest in terms of phenolics, which affect how wine feels in the mouth, and anthocyanins, which are pigments that produce a more intense red — a desirable trait in Oregon’s famous Pinot noir and many other red wines. That increased quality could translate into higher prices for Oregon grapes and for the wine made from them.
Meanwhile, OSU enologist James Osborne is studying how microorganisms in wine impact the aroma of Pinot noir. His goal is to help winemakers promote the growth of strains that can produce the aromas and flavors they desire.
Osborne and Skinkis are carrying on OSU's legacy of helping the wine industry. Past achievements of OSU scientists include isolating the first malolactic bacteria to grow at cold temperatures and low pHs; devising a lag growth phase crop estimation system that is now used universally; importing the Dijon clones and many varieties for the first time into the United States; and creating the first International Cool Climate Symposium for Viticulture and Enology in 1984.
Oregon was home to 905 vineyards and 379 grape-crushing wineries in 2012. Growers produced $116 million of wine grapes that year.