OSU’s wheat research is gaining on disease resistance

Article photo
Bob Zemetra, Oregon State University's wheat breeder, stands in a field of wheat at OSU's Hyslop Farm near Corvallis.

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

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