Department of Crop and Soil Science News

The secret (double) life of X331 (1859)

Together Solberg and Worthington formed Indie Hops and rebooted Oregon State University’s hop-breeding program with a $1 million donation. They were determined to do something new and enlisted Shaun Townsend, a PhD in breeding and genetics, to lead the effort. They gave him the mandate of breeding a hop that could flourish in the Willamette Valley, produce a distinct aroma and flavor and become one of the few hops that could stand on its own. Eventually X-331 emerged.


Oregon Tilth helps fund OSU organic Extension position (Capital Press)

In a move that highlights the growing influence of organic agriculture in the state, the Oregon non-profit that issues USDA certification will help fund an organic Extension program at Oregon State University.


Glyphosate-resistant tumbleweed discovered in NE Oregon (Capital Press)

Farmers in Northeast Oregon have discovered three infestations of glyphosate-resistant Russian thistle, also known as tumbleweed, Oregon State University researchers have confirmed.


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Armyworms invade Willamette Valley grass seed fields (Capital Press)

The Oregon State University Extension Service has issued a pest alert regarding the presence of true (common) armyworms in Willamette Valley grass seed crops.


Industrial hemp industry gets kick start from oil extract (Oregonian)

This year, Oregon State University set aside land to study the crop, hoping scientists could begin to answer questions like the best time to plant and which weeds and pests might pose a problem. Months later, those five acres in Benton County sit empty.


Idaho-Oregon onion growers seek cause of new plant disease (Capital Press)

Onion growers in Eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho are dealing with a new plant disease that can damage the inside of onions but they so far don’t know what’s causing it or how to prevent it. Oregon State University researchers are conducting field trials to try to answer those questions. “We know what the problem is real well but we don’t know what’s causing it or how to manage it,” said Clint Shock, director of OSU’s Malheur County experiment station.

Read More>>

Wheat farmers awaiting ‘million dollar rain’

Eastern Oregon wheat fields are already turning shades of amber in the wake of unusually warm weather that kicked off the month of June.

Read more>>

Increasing native seed supply for restoration efforts in the western United States (International Network for Seed-Based Restoration)

One effective method for increasing seed availability is through the establishment of agronomic-style seed propagation and increase programs that produce native plant seed for restoration. Oregon State University’s Malheur Experimental Station (OSU MES) in Onatrio, Oregon is leading this effort.


Alarm sounded over white top infestation in Malheur County (Capital Press)

White top, an invasive weed, has exploded to alarming levels in Malheur County this year. “This is the worst it’s ever been,” said Oregon State University Cropping Systems Extension Agent Bill Buhrig, who has lived in the county for 40 years. “It’s all over the place.”


Stripe rust detected early from Eastern Idaho to Eastern Oregon (Capital Press)

Stripe rust in wheat has been an intermittent problem in Eastern Oregon and the last two years it arrived late enough in the season that most growers decided not to treat for it, said Bill Buhrig, an Oregon State University Extension cropping systems agent.


Producer, distributor and institutional chefs team up to go whole hog

A meat distribution company, a catering service that operates corporate and institutional cafes, and a Washington pork producer are tweaking the food system in a way that saves money and reduces waste.

Whether the model can be applied across the broader market is unclear, but observers say it’s an important change that can benefit small to mid-size producers while providing urban consumers with high-quality, food.


Winter Cutworm: A New Pest Threat in Oregon (OSU Extension Catalog)

Damage from winter cutworm (the common name for the larval stage of the large yellow underwing moth) is a growing concern. In 2015, large numbers of larvae were observed around homes, within golf courses, and in field crops located in Oregon and Washington. This publication highlights general information about winter cutworm, including identification, scouting recommendations, and potential control measures.


Stripe rust found in Hermiston wheat field (Hermiston Herald)

Larry Lutcher, soil scientist with OSU Extension Service in Morrow County, said the disease is thus far limited to just one field. It has not yet been found in any dryland wheat. Stripe rust tends to thrive in cool, moist conditions when farmers would otherwise expect a promising harvest, Lutcher said. The last year with substantial rust damage came in 2012.


Get indoor pests to bug off without chemicals (Herald and News)

Insects lurking under leaves, climbing up stems and settling into the soil of houseplants frustrate indoor gardeners to no end.

But there are answers, according to Amy Dreves, an entomologist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service.

“Winter is a good time to check indoor plants for sap-sucking insects like mites, thrips, mealybugs, scales, whiteflies and aphids,” she said. “Spotting problems and responding to them early can keep populations from exploding.”

Read More>>

ALERT: The Winter Cutworm

Large numbers of Winter Cutworm (Noctua pronuba), otherwise known as the Large Yellow Underwing Moth, have been reported throughout the fall and winter months across several counties in western Oregon and Washington. First detected in Oregon in 2001, the winter cutworm has not previously been documented as an agricultural pest in the state. See attached document for further reading.

FinalALERT_WinterCutworm12_16_15.pdf1.06 MB

Mike Flowers Receives Distinguished Service Award from the Oregon Wheat Commission

At the Tri-State Grain Convention during the Oregon Gala, Mike Flowers received the Distinguished Service Award presented by the Oregon Wheat Commission.

Your Garden (Polk County Itemizer-Observer)

Insects lurking under leaves, climbing up stems and settling into the soil of houseplants frustrate indoor gardeners to no end. But there are answers, according to Amy Dreves, an entomologist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service.


Vance Almquist wins prize for 2015 SSSA Pedology Division Student Presentation Competition

Vance Almquist, a CSS graduate student at Oregon State University, won third place in the oral presentation category at the 2015 SSSA Pedology Division Student Presentation Competition. His award summary is as follows:

Vance Almquist
Oregon State University
Cover Beds as Evidence of a Humped Soil Production Function Associated with Forest Succession
Prize: Third Place ($50)


Oregon preps for a new wave of home-baking entrepreneurs (The Chief News)

Lauren Gwin, associate director of the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University, says the law allows baked goods to be sold from home because they don’t have the same health risks as other types of fresh foods.



Oregon Wheat Enterprise Video Release

A new video about Oregon wheat and our wheat enterprise, spotlighting our very own faculty

Watch Video >>

American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America Announces 2015 Award Recipient

MADISON, WI, Nov 15, 2015 – The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) announces the following 2015 award recipient. The annual awards are presented for outstanding contributions to agronomy through education, national and international service, and research.

Amanda M Pennino, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR – Golden Opportunity Scholars: Amanda Pennino is a senior at Oregon State University studying soil science, with a minor in horticulture. She is the president of OSU's Soil Science Club and a 3rd year competitor at the National Soil Judging Competition. Previously, she has been a field research assistant aiding in sampling for predictive mapping across Oregon. Amanda currently works for OSU's Crop & Soils Dept. on a research Hops farm with the USDA as well as a lab technician in the Central Analytical Laboratory. Her final year at OSU will be spent with an internship involving soil quality assessment within the Willamette Valley. She is active in the annual meetings with OSSS, Oregon Society of Soil Scientists, in addition to participating in the committee for the annual Warkentin Lecture Series. Amanda anticipates continuing on in her education beyond Oregon State University, using her vast knowledge of plants to aid her career in the soils world.


2015 ASA Educational Materials Awards Program

Explains the agronomic value and applicable regulations for beneficial recycling of municipal biosolids as a fertilizer. Dan M. Sullivan*, Craig G. Cogger, and Andy I. Bary; a circular, fact sheet, brochure (over 16 pages). Pacific Northwest Extension publication 508.

Major topics include:

  • fertilizer replacement value of biosolids;
  • effect of biosolids processing on nitrogen (N) forms, organic N mineralization rates, and ammonium-N retention,
  • biosolids quality factors (trace element concentrations and pathogen levels),
  • effects of biosolids applications on soil pH and soil quality,
  • applicable regulations for land application in agriculture,
  • questions and answers about biosolids safety and application practices.

Major audiences are farmers, agricultural professionals, city biosolids managers, and state/county regulatory agencies that play a role in site approval for land application of biosolids.   Secondary audiences include general public and extension educators and students.

Learn More >>

Horneck Building dedication Wednesday (Hermiston Herald)

OSU dedicated building in memory of agronomist Don Horneck


New food safety rules will not impact onions (The Argus Obsever)

Because of research done by the Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station and lobbying by growers and members of Congress, FDA modified its rules and said onions should not be held to the same water standard as other produce.


OSU aims to lead the nation in industrial hemp research (KMTR)

Oregon State University is striving to lead the nation in industrial hemp research. The research will allow them to identify different heights, water demands, growth characteristics, and other agronomic conditions in hemp plants. Their goal is to focus on ways to maximize hemp plant growth.


Demand rises for teff, other ‘new’ alternatives to wheat (Voice of America)

Teff production in the U.S. exploded over the past decade, said Oregon State University research agronomist Rich Roseberg, going from 1,200 hectares in 2003 to more than 40,000 nationally by 2010. He noted that the majority of the teff acreage in Washington state, Oregon and in the Eastern U.S. is grown for livestock forage. “Horses in particular seem to prefer it to other grass hay,” he said.

Read More >> 

Niche meat processor assistance network (Ag Info)

With the continued interest in local food, many new people are entering the meat processing industry on a local level. Often without a lot of meat industry background or knowledge, they struggle to find resources and expert assistance. Well, since its creation of the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network in 2007 its purpose has been to be a hub for people and organizations wanting small meat processors to thrive. Director of the Network Dr. Lauren Gwin, OSU, is featured.


Questions on whole grains? Ask a cereal chemist (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Andrew Ross, a professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis, works at one end of the spectrum, analyzing and breeding grain, looking for varieties that perform in different foods.


Spud board program making gains in Thailand

“They are smart consumers, and they want to know where their food is coming from and how it’s produced so when it gets to their table, they know something about it,” said Phil Hamm, director of OSU’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Read More in the Capital Press >>


Wheat growers called to engage with new CBARC staff

Local wheat farmers depend on CBARC — run by the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences — for the latest information on new crop varieties and growing techniques that can help them save money and increase production. (East Oregonian) 


USDA Awards $113 Million to Support Specialty Crop Production, Grow Opportunities for Rural Communities

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded more than $113 million in program grants to support farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops, also known as “specialty crops,” through research, agricultural extension activities, and programs to increase demand and address the needs of America's specialty crop industry. ( 


Karow named next OSU Ag Research Foundation director

Russ Karow, former head of Oregon State University’s Crop and Soil Science Department, has accepted a position as the next executive director of the OSU Agricultural Research Foundation.

Karow is in line to replace Kelvin Koong, who is stepping down June 30 from the position he has held since September of 2011.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Retiring OSU researchers honored

Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences said goodbye to seven long-time Department of Crop and Soil Science personnel in a celebration Dec. 12 that drew researchers, crop consultants, farmers and university administrators.

The celebration included a recognition ceremony during which participants honored long-time OSU Extension personnel Bill Young, Glenn Fisher and John Hart, as well as Department of Soil Science personnel Ann Corey, John Baham, Barbara Reed and former department head Russ Karow.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Tasmanian pasture seed production can replicate the billion dollar industry in US state Oregon

Located in north east of America, Oregon stands alone as the country's biggest seed producer after discovering it couldn't compete with other crops being produced by neighbouring states.

Professor Tom Chastain from Oregon State University says the key to profitability is specialisation.

"Oregon is the leader in pasture seed production in the United States," he said.

Read more on »

OSU extension agronomist Don Horneck dies at 56

Don Horneck, an extension agronomist for Oregon State University at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, has died at age 56.

Don Horneck, long-time extension agronomist for Oregon State University at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, died Sept. 28 in Hermiston.

He was 56.

Read more in the Capital Press »

OSU names Jay Noller new head of crop and soil science

Oregon State University has selected Jay Noller the new department head of crop and soil science in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Noller, a longtime landscape soils professor in the department, started his new position on October 1. He succeeds Russ Karow who served as department head since 2001.

“Our research into soil and crops will continue to have a common theme: food. Improving food, creating sustainable conditions to produce food and supporting stakeholders in agriculture and natural resources,” said Noller, who previously served as associate department head under Karow.

Read more from OSU Extension Service »

OSU, wheat commission reach royalty agreement

At an extension meeting here Sept. 16, an Oregon Wheat Commission administrator unveiled terms of an agreement between the commission and Oregon State University for how OSU spends royalties on OSU-developed wheat varieties.

Under the agreement, 75 percent of royalties collected by the university will be put back into the wheat breeding program. Five percent of royalties will go to the Crop and Soil Science Department, 10 percent to variety inventors and 10 percent to the OSU Research Office.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Pest management advice from OSU experts: Spray with water, shake to avoid using chemicals

Effectively managing garden pests, including insects, plant diseases and weeds, can be a challenge for gardeners concerned about the environment and human health.

Integrated Pest Management is a systematic approach to identify pests and use tactics that are cultural, physical, biological or chemical.

The least toxic and effective methods are always considered first, according to Oregon State University researchers Andy Hulting, a weed control specialist, and Gail Langellotto, an entomologist.

Read more in the Oregonian »

Oregon State hires an outreach coordinator for cereal grain varieties

When grain seed dealers and growers begin talking varieties, they’ll quickly discover Oregon State University’s Hannah Kammeyer speaks their language.

Kammeyer, 23, started work July 28 as the cereal variety outreach coordinator for OSU’s Crop and Soil Science Department. She’ll interact with seed dealers and farmers to advocate for planting OSU’s wheat and barley varieties, and will do communications and marketing work as well. Mike Flowers, an assistant professor and cereals specialist with OSU’s Extension Service, said he and others had been doing the job off and on and recognized the need to have someone in that position full-time.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Grass seed harvest winding up

The mid-valley grass seed harvest is wrapping up and local farmers have begun harvesting their wheat and clover fields.

Clare Sullivan, the new seed crops specialist in the Linn County office of the OSU Extension Service, said most farmers she has talked to report good — but not stellar — yields.

“I haven’t heard much grumbling about yields, so they must not be too bad,” Sullivan said.

Read more in the Gazette Times »

Drought-tolerant oilseed crop gets Oregon field trials, shows promise for dry years

Camelina field trials at an Oregon State University experiment station here have shown the oilseed crop could be a source of income for the region's farmers in drought years when irrigation water is sparse.

Camelina, which is a source of animal protein supplements, cooking oil and biofuel, can be planted in the fall or very early spring.

Read more in the Oregonian »

In Search of the Great American Beer

"Historically, new hop varieties were bred as replacements for those already on the market," says Shaun Townsend, assistant professor of Hop Breeding and Genetics at Oregon State University. "When a brewery identified a cultivar that worked well for their beer recipes, they were reluctant to change out that cultivar for fear of introducing undesirable flavors in the final product."

Read more in the Smithsonian »

Back to the earth

You know that part of the funeral service where the minister says “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”?

Cynthia Beal thinks you should take that literally.

“We’re really just dirt,” Beal said.

Read more in the Democrat-Herald »

Alternative crop trials part of OSU field day

A presentation on alternative crop trials will be a highlight of the Malheur County experiment station’s annual Summer Farm Festival and Field Day on July 9.

One of the most promising alternative crops Oregon State University researchers here have experimented with this year is camelina grown without any irrigation.

Employees of the OSU research station near Ontario were harvesting the camelina, a potential biofuel crop, June 30 and researchers said the crop looks good.

Read more at Capital Press »

New OSU Extension crops specialist getting out and about on area farms

Mid-valley farmers may notice a slight accent when they first meet Clare Sullivan, the new crops specialist for the Oregon State University Extension Service.

That’s because she is Canadian, having grown up in Guelph, Ontario, and Vancouver, B.C.

But Sullivan, 30, is excited to be living in the mid-valley and putting her experience in soil nutrients to work, although she admits she will have to get up to speed on the intricacies of growing and harvesting grass seed.

Read more in the Democrat Herald »

Oregon Hopes to Be First State to Map GMO Fields

Before residents in southern Oregon overwhelmingly voted to ban genetically modified crops last month, farmers negotiated for months with a biotech company that grows engineered sugar beets near their fields.

Their goal was to set up a system to peacefully coexist, an online mapping database of fields to help growers minimize cross-pollination between engineered and non-engineered crops.

Read more on »

Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center birthplace of new potato varieties

Do you want fries with that? Chances are if you say yes, you may eat a french fry that came from a potato started and developed in the Klamath Basin.

Oregon State University’s Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center (KBREC) is home to innovative new crop varieties, especially potatoes. Every year researchers plant thousands of new types of potatoes. Those thousands of plants are whittled down year after year until, a decade later, a new potato is ready for the market.

Read more in the Herald & News »

Soil expert to speak

James Cassidy from the Oregon State University Crop and Soil Science Department will present a program, suitable for farmers and gardeners, on the complex nature of soils from 6 to 9 p.m. May 29 at the OSU Extension Office, 2001 Marine Drive, Suite 210.

This free program is co-sponsored by the Clatsop Soil and Water Conservation District and the OSU Extension.

Cassidy’s program will cover how soils are formed, soil health and microbiology, and how farmers and gardeners can best make productive use of this resource. Chip Bubl, OSU agricultural agent from Columbia County, will also be there to answer crop/soil fertility questions and describe how to interpret a soil test.

Read more in the Daily Astorian »

Five things you should know about clover in Washington County

You've seen it. It's nearly impossible to travel around Washington County and not come across it at some point this time of year. Fields of lovely red and green hues that seem to go on forever.

Read more in the Oregonian »

OSU Extension hires new agent for south valley

Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences has named a new south Willamette Valley extension agent.

Clare Sullivan, who holds a master’s degree in soil science from the University of Saskatchewan, brings a diverse portfolio to her position, said Russ Karow, head of the Department of Crop and Soil Science at OSU.

Read more at the Capital Press »

Dig to ID your soil before you plant: Gardening basics

If you want to grow better plants, you first need to understand the texture of your soil.

"The texture of a soil is its proportion of sand, silt and clay," said James Cassidy, a soils instructor at Oregon State University. “Texture determines all kinds of things like drainage, aeration, the amount of water the soil can hold, erosion potential and even the amount of nutrients that can be stored.”

Read more in the Oregonian »

Hoo Haa returns for Earth Day

If it’s Earth Day, it must be time for the Hoo Haa.

The Oregon State University Organic Growers Club will mark the environmental movement’s signature holiday on Tuesday with its annual celebration for all who love to play in the dirt.

Read more in the Gazette Times »

Digging Deep Within the Soil

Raised in the rugged state of Nevada, Gabriella Coughlin, a senior graduating this spring with a degree in soil resource management in the department of crop and soil science at Oregon State University, witnessed early on that there were many land use issues in and around her home.

She knew something needed to be done about how to remediate certain problems such as mine use tailings, which are the spoiled soils that are refused after mining.

Read more in the Barometer »

Oregon grass, legume seed production bounced back in 2012-13

Oregon’s grass and legume seed industry continued its recovery in 2012-13, reaching a value of nearly $462 million, according to a report from Oregon State University.

The 13.6 percent increase in production value over the previous year came despite only a 2 percent increase in grass seed acreage, which accounts for 90 percent of the combined crop value. That indicates strong seed prices, said William C. Young III, professor emeritus at OSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Science.

Read more at Capital Press »

Fungus-free hops for better beer: Gardening basics

If you're growing hops to brew your own beer, you may notice silvery or pale green, brittle spikes rising from the crown of the plant or brown spots on the leaves this spring.

"Hop plants have problems with downy mildew, a fungus that attacks plants primarily in April and May," said Shaun Townsend, the hops breeder for Oregon State University.

But don't worry, he added, just cut back the bines (some erroneously call them vines) to the soil with a knife. The plants will start new bines, which will grow quite rapidly. Though wet, foggy weather encourages downy mildew, pruning helps keep the fungus at bay.

Read more in the Oregonian »

OSU ranked in top 10 for ag, forestry

Oregon State University’s agriculture and forestry programs are ranked seventh best in the world in a new survey of institutions.

Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings each year lists the top universities in 30 subject areas, choosing from among 3,000 universities worldwide. The rankings are based on such things as surveys that measure an institution’s reputation among academics and employers. Also considered are the number of articles that university professors and researchers publish in academic journals and the amount of citations generated by the publications. The ag and forestry programs ranked eighth best in 2013.

Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said the rise in ranking was a “testament to the continued great work of our faculty and researchers,” according to an OSU news release.

Read more at Capital Press »

New pest discovered in Oregon clover fields

A pest new to the Pacific Northwest may be causing yield losses in clover grown for seed.

Casebearer moths, native to Europe, were first found in North America in the 1960s, when the moth was found in the New York state and Eastern Canada, according to Oregon State University Extension agent Nicole Anderson.

In 2001 was it reported in Western Canada, when researchers in Alberta identified it as being responsible for seed yield losses of between 25 and 45 percent in first-year stands of red clover.

Read more in the Capital Press »

New Organic Agriculture Courses Offered Spring Term 2014

HORT 260 Organic Farming and Gardening (3)
Organic farming and gardening methods are discussed in class and practiced in the field. The philosophical background of organic farming as well as the biological, environmental and social factors involved in organic food production are covered. Emphasis is on hands-on application of scientific principles to create sustainable food production systems. Lec/lab. Download flyer now »

HORT 499/599 or CROP 499/599 Organic and Third Party Certifications (2)
Spring Term 2014 - Tuesday 3:00-4:20 & Thursday 3:00-3:50, ALS 3096
Certification and labeling of the production and processing of agricultural products are some of the only ways that consumers can assure that the food they consume aligns with their values. There is a growing need to determine and understand what many of these food labels mean. In this course, students will learn the standards, procedures and processes necessary to certify land, production and processing as USDA organic, and correctly label products for the organic market as well as listing agricultural inputs for use in organic agriculture. In addition to Organic Certification, other important Third Party Certifications will be presented and discussed with the assistance of invited speakers. Download course flyer »

HORT 499/599 or CROP 499/599 Advanced Organic Farming (2)
Spring Term 2014 - Tuesday 1:00-2:20, ALS 3096
Peer-reviewed research on a broad range of topics related to Organic Agriculture has been ongoing for well over a decade and continues to increase.  This course will focus on this body of knowledge to reveal the techniques, advances as well as needs and concerns in what is now one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture.  The course places high expectations on participants to read, present, and discuss the published literature.  Students must be highly motivated to fulfill the requirements and expectations of this demanding subject.  Additionally, credit-seeking participants must have senior status, some course work, or equivalent experience on the subject of Organic Agriculture (or consent of instructors). Download course flyer »


Corp and Lajtha honored

Mary Corp was named Hermiston Woman of the Year in a February 5 event. Hermiston honored its best and brightest with a mix of sincere compliments and good-natured ribbing Wednesday at the Distinguished Citizens Awards Banquet.  Former Hermiston Superintendent Jer Pratton was named Man of the Year, and Mary Corp was awarded Woman of the Year during the 41st annual event at the Hermiston Conference Center.

Kate Lajtha received notice last week from Springer Publications that she has been nominated as a "Scientist of Distinction" to be honored in conjunction with the upcoming International Women's Day.

Dig up hops plants now for home brewing later

With craft beer and home brewing becoming more popular, interest is fermenting among gardeners in backyard hops.

Oregon State University's hops breeder, Shaun Townsend, said he regularly fields questions from the public about growing hops. He also teaches workshops on "hops growing 101" to prospective hops farmers and gardeners.

Read more in the Oregonian »

Oregon's Agricultural Experiment Stations are featured in the latest issue of Oregon's Agricultural Progress

photo by Lynn Ketchum

Crop and Soil Science faculty are featured in OAP, working on issues such as potato variety development and experimental crop plots, at ag experiment stations around the state. 

Visit Oregon's Agricultural Progress »

Download the OAP app »

Carol Mallory-Smith to be honored for her contributions to agriculture

Oregon’s agriculture leaders and innovators will be honored at the Agricultural Progress Awards dinner March 12.

The event, hosted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, celebrates progress in agriculture made through partnerships among business, higher education and state government.

Read more in the Statesman Journal »

Genome helps breeders develop better potato

Sequencing of the potato genome will aid the development of new varieties, Oregon State University’s breeder says.

Sagar Sathuvalli, based in Hermiston, Ore., said the use of genetic mapping can reduce the length of the potato breeding process, which typically takes 10 to 15 years, by two to three years.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Study of pesky insect begins

Scientists now know a little bit more about the insect previously known as the “grass bug.”

Residents of Cricket Flat and other areas that saw plague-like numbers of the “grass bug” last summer may not see the insect disappear soon, but work to manage the pests is under way.

Darrin Walenta, Oregon State University Extension agronomist, said since September, when residents were reporting numbers of bugs so high they could hardly go outside, more scientists have teamed up to find out what exactly the “grass bugs” are — and how to manage them.

Read more in the LaGrande Observer »

Fast-forward breeding

The American Malting Barley Association now has only two recommended winter malt barley varieties, drastically limiting the options of growers. But a new cross of those varieties, called 10.0777, may soon provide growers with a powerful new option that offers the best attributes of each.

And thanks to an innovative laboratory shortcut, that hybrid will be available years ahead of the normal breeding timeline. Called doubled haploid technology, it is part of a scientific trend that is bringing new barley and wheat hybrids to market in the Pacific Northwest faster than ever before.

Pat Hayes, a barley breeder at Oregon State University, explained that 10.0777, crossed four years ago, is a doubled haploid. That means it was bred with two identical sets of genes — haploids — to avoid variation among the progeny. The technology fast-forwards breeding by years without introducing foreign genes, as is done with controversial genetically modified organisms.

Read more at Capital Press »

Science through a Microphone

John Yeo berry root rot disease

John Yeo, screening blueberry varieties in the greenhouse.

Inspiration Dissemination is broadcast Sunday evenings at 7pm. Recent Crop and Soil Science students interviewed include John Yeo, who is working on suppressing berry root rot disease, and Fumiaki Funahashi.

The objectives of Inspiration Dissemination are to:

  • provide a platform for OSU undergraduate and graduate students, whom are conducting research, to engage in outreach and practice disseminating the broader impacts of their research projects to a lay audience;
  • provide inspiration, insight and advice to current undergraduate and graduate students;
  • highlight exceptional research being conducted at OSU and inform the scientific community of current and ongoing research projects and opportunities;
  • serve as a recruitment tool for international and domestic students interested in graduate school at OSU.

Listen to archived broadcasts on Inspiration Dissemination's site »

OSU ag college enrollment growing

He’s been on the job less than two years, but Dean Dan Arp is working up a good story to tell about the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University.

As Arp told the state Board of Agriculture this month, enrollment at the college set a record this year, with 2,381 undergrads and 450 graduate students.

The rush of students comes at a time when Oregon’s farmers, ranchers and processors are gaining recognition as an economic driver, and drone and robotics experts increasingly see the state’s vineyards, fields and orchards as proving grounds for new technology.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Growing Industrial Hemp in Oregon

Senate Bill 676 passed by the Oregon legislature in 2009 allows for the production of industrial hemp. But in the years since, farmers have been hesitant to begin growing for fear that they'd be prosecuted by the Drug Enforcement Administration for possession of a schedule I controlled substance — since under federal law, hemp is in the same category as marijuana.

Read more and listen at

Realism over reverence: A loveable soil nerd’s advice for sustainable activism

James Cassidy, a soil sciences instructor and faculty advisor to one of the longest-running organic student farms in the country, comes into his office at Oregon State University wearing a t-shirt that says “eat locals.” It shows a zombie chasing a guy on a tractor.

I’m here today to talk with James about food, sustainability, and the little things we can all do to make a difference in our food system. Now that there are so many different food organizations, sustainable farming projects, and trendy restaurants, the myriad of all things we “should” do when it comes to food can be overwhelming.

“A lot of people think you’re supposed to convert to sustainability like you have to join this religion or something,” James says. “But the creation of real lasting change isn’t about going full blast, it’s about doing little things over a long period of time. That’s what sustainability really means—an action that is possible for you to sustain for a long time.”

Read more at Idealists in Action »

Industrial hemp in Oregon: State officials drafting rules for hemp production

Oregon agriculture officials on Tuesday said they hope to have rules in place for the possibility of producing industrial hemp by the spring planting season.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has assembled a committee of policy officials and agriculture experts, including Russ Karow, head of the Oregon State University crop and soil science program, to draft rules for industrial hemp production. Jim Cramer, director of the market access and certification program area of the Department of Agriculture, said the agency’s focus is crafting “robust” rules for hemp. 

Read more in the Oregonian »

“I’ve Never Been So Excited” - A young scientist goes to the White House

Portland ninth-grader Meghana Rao was scouring the Web for information on biochar when she stumbled across an intriguing paper by a researcher named Markus Kleber. When she realized he was at Oregon State University, just a 90 miles down the freeway from where she was a student at Jesuit High School, she emailed him with “a few ideas.” Before long, she was conducting her own experiments in Kleber’s lab in Crop and Soil Sciences with guidance from the professor and graduate student Myles Gray.

Read more in Terra magazine »

Symphony of the Soil

Like a symphony, soil is a system of parts existing in magnificent diversity and dynamic relationships.  Yet, as is pointed out in the film Symphony of the Soil, “we rarely investigate things as a system.”  This October selection for the Salem Progressive Film Series reveals the complexity of soil – its origins and structure and the food web in which it participates.  James Cassidy, Senior Instructor of Soil Science at Oregon State University, who will speak following the film, calls soil “the most diverse habitat on earth….a four dimensional complex habitat, more diverse than the oceans.”

Read more at Willamette Live »

Grass Bugs Plague Northeast Oregon Community

This time, crickets aren't the problem in the Cricket Flat area of Elgin.

The area got its name from a prevalence of the jumping, chirping insects in the 19th century. These days, the infestation pestering residents is grass bugs.

The Oregon State University Extension Office gets calls about grass bugs every year, but nothing like this summer. Extension agronomist Darrin Walenta said this year's population — in Cricket Flat and the region — has reached "plague-like numbers."

Read more at ABC News »

Harvest Lags In Extremes

A year of extremes is taking its toll on the wheat harvest across Eastern Oregon, with untimely frost and continued lack of rain expected to reduce yields for most farmers in the area.

Don Wysocki, extension soil scientist with Oregon State University’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton, said the crop is coming up short primarily due to an unusually dry spring and winter.

Total precipitation is about 70 percent of normal for the crop year beginning Sept. 1, 2012, Wysocki said. That means a shortfall of about four inches, which has a majority of wheat plants growing about 60-75 percent of average height.

Read more on OPB »

Barley's Use as a Healthy, Delicious Food Shown by Nutrition Students

photo courtesy of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences

When most people hear the word barley, they tend to think bread or beer. But Oregon State nutrition students are showing the world there’s much more to barley than a refreshing pint – by creating healthy, nutritional and easy-to-make recipes.

Students in Associate Professor Mary Cluskey’s Nutrition 311 Quantity Foods course were tasked with developing and preparing a desirable, nutritious dish that meets culinary, sensory and nutrition goals. The catch – one of the main ingredients had to be barley.

Read more in Synergies, the newsletter for the College of Public Health and Human Sciences »

Harvest Of Uncertainty

With harvest starting, wheat farmer Jim Williams has more questions than answers.

He typically begins harvest around July 10-12. Just like every other year, Williams is watching his fields and the markets, pondering the potential yield and price he’ll receive for his crop.

But after the discovery in May of genetically modified wheat on a farm in nearby northeast Oregon, Williams and other Northwest wheat farmers are still looking for answers from the USDA about its investigation and wonder how much the incident will impact overseas demand — and prices — for their wheat.

Read more at OPB »

Oregon State University names Andrew Hulting to Hyslop Professorship

by Denise Ruttan

Oregon State University has selected a weed management specialist with the Extension Service for a major endowed professorship.

Andrew Hulting began July 1 as OSU's fourth Hyslop Professor. He will serve in the role for five years. 

Hulting will train graduate students to work on weed management projects, including in-depth studies of grass weed species, such as annual bluegrass and roughstalk bluegrass. He will train seed industry professionals to improve weed management practices. Additionally, he plans to work with undergraduate students on weed management research.

"The Hyslop Professorship is an extremely important position because it allows us to target funds to issues important to the industries related to seed production," Hulting said. "It's a great honor. I'm so thankful that the Hyslop family had the foresight to create this endowment. It's a rare opportunity to have this amount of time to develop important projects."  

George R. Hyslop's family and friends established a large endowment with the OSU Foundation that provides funds for several activities, including the Hyslop Professorship, within OSU's Crop and Soil Science Department. Hyslop was the first to head the Department of Farm Crops at Oregon Agricultural College in the early 1900s.

Hulting assumes the position as Oregon seed production charts a course toward a more prosperous future.

"We've come out of a huge downturn in grass seed production, and the market is looking more positive," Hulting said. "We've seen a lot of growth in clover seed production and in some other important seed crops. There's good demand for our products and we are starting to turn around and see a more positive outlook for all seed production." 

New OSU potato breeder seeks new varieties

Oregon State University's new potato breeder, Sagar Sathuvalli, is looking at 1,800 selections in his plots at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

If all goes well, two or three of the selections will become named varieties.

Such is the reality in the breeding world, where a 1 to 2 percent success rate is considered good, and progress is measured in years, rather than days or weeks.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Taking a Metagenomics Approach to Soil's Reaction to Rainfall

What do large umbrellas covering a part of the Kansas prairie have to do with climate change?

Current scientific knowledge tells us that the environmental pressures leading to climate change will result in less frequent rainfall. However, the rainfall events will be more intense, and drop larger amounts of precipitation. The effect of changing precipitation patterns on agriculture is a main cause for concern among researchers in the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University.

David Myrold and Peter Bottomley, soil scientists in the department, are concerned with climate change's effect on soil, specifically carbon (C) cycling. Our societies depend on soil to grow the crops needed to feed people and animals, and to produce clothing and fuel, among other things, and understanding the effect of climate change on soil is key to weathering the change.

The ability of soils to perform its many functions depends greatly on soil microbes. For example, soil microbes play a critical role in decomposing crop residue and recycling mineral nutrients that helps crop grow again. Soil microbial biomass can be substantial and is responsible for retaining some of the plant carbon in the soil each year. Microbial biomass helps to stabilize the soil and withstand the disturbances associated with cultivation and crop production.

To what extent might changes in rainfall pattern affect the balance between plant carbon inputs and carbon retention in soil?  One possibility is that the composition of the soil microbial community will shift and be dominated by members more adept at dealing with the longer drought intervals and more intense rewet events. This “adaptive behavior” might include shifts in the physiological behavior of the adapted microbial community which will differ from the original community, and might affect the balance between plant carbon input and the fraction that is retained in soil.        

Myrold and Bottomley are taking an "-omics" approach to studying soil C cycling—studying the cycle collectively. Metagenomics, which is the study of DNA from a community rather than a single organism, allows scientists to have a big picture view of the soil community's composition. Taking this whole picture approach allows Myrold and Bottomley to create climate change scenarios and predict how the carbon cycling soil microbial community responds to these scenarios and to determine what kinds of changes in soil activities might be occurring in response to the shifts in precipitation.

"You go into a house and watch what one person does once the sun sets," explains Myrold. "Does that person turn on the kitchen light first? Lower the blinds in the living room? Turn on the TV? That's looking at the things one person does." Using a satellite to look at what a whole city does when the sun goes down and how all those processes add up to a whole, that's metagenomics, says Myrold.

That's where the umbrellas in Kansas come in.

"We're studying the long term effects of different patterns of rainfall on the prairie," explains Myrold. "And we're manipulating that rainfall to see how the microbial community and its activities respond."

The umbrellas that are stretched over portions of the field catch the natural rain, but the scientists are giving the soil the same amount of rainfall in different pulses. Some areas are allowed to go longer between rainfall events, but the volume dispersed is more, while other areas have more frequent, less heavy, rewetting.

"We know that soil has a flush, or pulse, of activity when it is rewet," says Myrold. "This pulse of activity sets off many different reactions and activities, some of which create carbon dioxide, a major contributor to climate change."

Myrold and his group are measuring a variety of responses, including if the microbial communities behave differently when the water comes at different intervals. Do the variety of organisms react differently or is there a change in how the whole community behaves?

What they've found, Myrold explains, is that the soil becomes more stressed during the drier intervals. "The bacteria and fungi adjust to the 'droughtier' conditions by forming spores or going into resting stages."

This "-omics" research project is sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research and is a collaboration between Oregon State University, Kansas State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Joint Genome Institute, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

More research is planned to see how other environments respond to this precipitation manipulation. The research group is planning on expanding the project to test a wetter soil in Wisconsin, and a dry summertime soil in Oregon, allowing the group to generalize their results and be able to offer theories on how soil microbes are affected by change in weather.

Work to identify genetically modified wheat raises OSU department's profile

Discovery of unauthorized genetically-engineered wheat growing on an eastern Oregon farm last month led to a federal investigation and sparked global controversy, jeopardizing international export markets for a crop worth $300 million to $500 million to the state's economy annually.

But it also put a spotlight on an Oregon State University department that more typically toils in obscurity doing the technical and even arcane work of agricultural research.

"Some of what we do is becoming more apparent" in the wake of the flap over genetically modified wheat, said Russ Karow, chair of OSU's Crop and Soil Science Department. 

Read more in the Oregonian »

OSU wheat expert helps growers choose right varieties

An Oregon State University wheat expert hopes to help farmers make the best choices as they select which varieties to plant next.

Mike Flowers, extensions cereals specialist, and Bob Zemetra, wheat breeder, teamed up during the Pendleton Field Day June 11 at OSU's Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center.

Flowers walked the different varieties available to growers on the field day's demonstration plots, offering pros and cons of the options.

Flowers said growers often make their variety selection based on disease resistance, but can neglect other factors. He advises growers to plant a mix of wheat varieties for different attributes, including maturity. In wet, cool years, late-maturing varieties tend to perform better. In dry years, early-maturing varieties tend to be better, he said.

Read more in the Capital Press »

These drones spy on spuds

This is one of two remotely-piloted vehicles researchers will be using here at the Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

It's called the HawkEye. It weighs just eight pounds and is roughly the size of small duffle bag. It has a propeller, but no wings.  It's kept in the air with a brightly colored parasail. 

Read more at OPB »

Neighborhood garden hosts workshop

No one I’ve met has a passion for soil like James Cassidy.

The Oregon State University crop and soil scientist taught an outdoor workshop on the best methods for soil health in the home garden May 11 at a Southeast Salem Neighborhood garden.

Read more in the Statesman Journal »

Scientists unswayed by Monsanto findings on rogue wheat

Several plant scientists questioned conclusions Monsanto Co. (MON) drew from its investigation of an escaped gene-altered wheat variety and said there is still a risk that rogue grain is in the seed supply.

In its first detailed response to last week’s announcement that a genetically modified wheat not approved for use was found growing in an Oregon farmer’s field, Monsanto said that it has since tested 31,200 seed samples in Oregon and Washington and found no evidence of contamination.

Read more in »

GMO Wheat Found In Oregon Field. How Did It Get There?

About a month ago, a farmer in eastern Oregon noticed some wheat plants growing where he didn't expect them, and they didn't die when he sprayed them with Roundup.

The farmer sent samples of these curious plants to Carol Mallory-Smith, a scientist at Oregon State University who has investigated other cases in which genetically engineered crops spread beyond their approved boundaries.

Read more at NPR's site »

New OSU wheat varieties promise yield, rust resistance

Two new Oregon State University soft white winter wheat varieties are being touted for their high yield potential and stripe rust resistance.

OSU wheat breeder Bob Zemetra said Bobtail and Rosalyn topped variety trials in Oregon -- and some in Washington.

Bobtail averaged 10 bushels more than the average yield in higher rainfall and irrigated zones in Oregon trials. Zemetra said it produces a little less than that in dryland areas and has moderate resistance to strawbreaker footrot because it carries the PCH2 gene, the relatively new second gene for resistance. Most varieties carry the PCH1 gene.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Bringing barley back

Under a blue sky in a field near Corvallis, a combine spits nearly a ton of barley seeds into a bin on the back of a flatbed Ford. Patrick Hayes plunges his hand into the golden kernels. This is the first time he has harvested this variety, named ‘Alba,’ on such a large scale. Hayes, the head of Oregon State University’s barley breeding program, made the genetic cross that gave rise to ‘Alba’ 15 years ago. He has been evaluating it in the field since. He’s hoping that the high-yielding grain will be a hit in beer, food and livestock feed.

Read more in the Register-Guard »

Proclamation can't replace state funding for weed control

Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared May 19-25 Invasive Weed Awareness Week, and, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the state needs to be diligent in its war against weeds.

But you wouldn't know it by the department's proposed 2013-15 budget.

Under a directive to cut $1.2 million in lottery funding, the department has proposed cutting $518,896 from its weed program, or about 25 percent of its state funding.

Read more in the Capital Press »

OSU Celebrates Barley Days: Celebration Slated for May 17

On Friday, May 17, Oregon State University invites the community to the fifth annual Barley Days to celebrate and learn about one of the world’s oldest grains.

Crop and soil science professor Dr. Patrick Hayes is the principal investigator and head of the barley project at OSU. He organizes the event with the help of research assistants and graduate students.

Read more in the Corvallis Advocate »

Drones hit new turf: U.S. farmland

Farmers are starting to investigate the use of drones for a decidedly nonmilitary purpose: monitoring crops and spraying pesticides.

As the spring growing season unfolds, universities already are working with agricultural groups to experiment with different types of unmanned aircraft outfitted with sensors and other technologies to measure and protect crop health.

Oregon State University plans to use the unmanned vehicles to monitor the school's potato crop and those of a commercial potato grower. Both crops, located near Hermiston, Ore., are expected to sprout in coming weeks. The university last month ran its first test-flight.

Read more in Wall Street Journal »

OSU researcher tracks stripe rust on susceptible wheat

Stripe rust is spreading quickly on susceptible wheat varieties in Oregon State University test plots, extension cereal specialist Mike Flowers says.

Flowers provided an email update to industry members regarding signs of stripe rust and septoria on unsprayed South Willamette Valley variety trials.

If rust is showing up in his plots, farmers with susceptible varieties will likely be seeing the same thing, he said.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Cooperative research project should speed barley advances

Oregon State University researcher Patrick Hayes anticipates the next few years will bring rapid advancements in barley breeding from his program and the public-sector in general.

Researchers at 55 universities and institutions in 21 states are midway through a five-year, $25 million USDA cooperative grant, called TCAP, that should make barley and wheat breeding faster and more effective.

Some participating institutions research specific traits in field trials while other labs characterize genetic markers within barley and wheat, paired with desirable traits in the top-performing varieties evaluated. That data is uploaded into a database available to breeders.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Getting back to the soil

As the master of ceremonies for one of Corvallis’ most unusual events, James Cassidy had a lot of last-minute details to attend to Monday afternoon.

Dressed in a straw fedora, bellbottom jeans and a “Soil — You Dig?” T-shirt, the faculty adviser of Oregon State University’s Organic Growers Club seemed to be everywhere at once, handing out gardening implements, rounding up missing microphones and making sure the burrito bar was set up properly.

Finally, as the country-funk sounds of the Deep Woods Band began pouring out of the solar-powered sound system, Cassidy was able to relax a bit, change into his paisley smoking jacket and enjoy the party.

“Now,” he said, “it’s officially a Hoo Haa.”

Read more in the Corvallis Gazette Times »

Challenges and benefits await small farms

 Like any small business, small farms require long hours, long-term commitment and stamina, as well as a risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit.

“The whole family needs to be in on the dream,” said Gary Stephenson, Oregon State University Extension Small Farm Program, adding that some family members might not enjoy having to wake up at 4 a.m. for some chore.

Read more in the Argus Observer »

Drones To Check Out Acres Of Potatoes

Researchers with Oregon State University believe new remote-controlled aircraft could help farmers better manage resources in the field, lowering their costs while increasing yield of high-value crops.

The university is leasing two small unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, from Boeing Co. to fly over 50 acres of potato fields at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, as well as 1,000 acres at a private farm west of Boardman.

Read more at OPB »

Ashes, Ashes , Can We Put Them All Around?

 Dan Sullivan, soil scientist with the Oregon State University Extension Service says that wood ash can be useful in home gardens, in your compost pile or as a pest repellent.

"Since wood ash is derived from plant material, it contains most of the 13 essential nutrients the soil must supply for plant growth," said Sullivan. "When wood burns, nitrogen and sulfur are lost as gases, and calcium, potassium, magnesium and trace element compounds remain. The carbonates and oxides remaining after wood burning are valuable liming agents, raising pH, thereby helping to neutralize acid soils."

Read more in the Courier Gazette »

OSU Interdisciplinary Team Paper is Named ASHS Outstanding Extension Publication for 2012

An interdisciplinary paper, written by a team comprised of Research Associate Julian James from Agricultural & Resource Economics, Professor Bernadine Strik and Courtesy Faculty David Bryla from Horticulture, and Associate Professor Dan Sullivan from Crop and Soil Science has been awarded the 2012 American Society for Horticultural Science Outstanding Publication Award.

The paper, "Costs of Establishing Organic Northern Highbush Blueberry: Impacts of Planting Method, Fertilization, and Mulch Type" will be on display at the 110th ASHS Annual Conference in Palm Springs, CA, from July 22 - July 25, 2013. The team will be honored at an awards ceremony during the conference, as well. 

Graduate Student Brigid Meints Is Awarded Oregon Lottery Graduate Scholarship

Graduate student Brigid Meints, an M.S. student studying plant breeding and genetics under Professor Pat Hayes, has been awarded the Oregon Lottery Graduate Scholarship for 2013-14 year. Her research involves the development of barley for human nutrition.

Congratulations to Brigid on her success in this university-wide fellowship competition!

Bringing Barley Back to the Valley: OSU Rejuvenates Oregon’s Barley Crop, Brewers Get Amped

Oregon State University has been successfully working on reestablishing barley in Oregon, according to Oregon’s Agricultural Process magazine. Professor Pat Hayes and his team now have about 10,000 experimental barley varieties that they monitor for hardiness, disease resistance, and yield.

Though barley remains an important crop worldwide, its prominence in Oregon has decreased substantially in the past 50 years. OSU researchers and local farmers would like to see Oregon barley play a more prominent role in food and beer.

Read more in the Corvallis Advocate »

OSU professor warns against excess canola production

An Oregon State University weed scientist said in a legislative hearing March 19 to expect an increase in disease and pest pressure if growers increase production of canola and other brassica seed crops in the Willamette Valley.

"I think if we increase the brassica seed production in the Willamette Valley, using canola or any of the other brassica crops, we will see an increase in diseases and pests," said Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at OSU. "It is very, very likely."

he issue of whether canola production in the valley will contribute to an increase in insect, weed and disease pressure is among issues state agriculture officials weighed before deciding recently to allow limited production here.

Read more in the Capital Press »

Professor David Hannaway Blogs His Experiences as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in China

Crop and Soil Science Professor David Hannaway, Forage Program Director, received a Fulbright Distinguished Chair award from the Fulbright Scholar Program to teach in China. He's currently on an eight month program assisting students and faculty research projects at Sichuan Agricultural University and Nanjing Agricultural University, and working with university professors to develop better methodologies to teach grassland management and cultivated forages in China. 

Read more about his experiences teaching and mentoring students and enjoying Chinese culture, sights and food at his blog, Fulbright Distinguished Chair China.

Macnab Helps Bridge The Gap Between Agricultural Science And The Farm

Sandy Macnab likes to tell folks he went to Oregon State University to get his schooling, then came back to the farm to get his education.

Orville Blaylock [at 4 Kernel Ranch in Sherman County] was one of the most patient teachers I ever had and has been a strong influence in my life and career, even though he may not know it,” Macnab said.

Read more in The Dalles Chronicle »

Student Spotlight

When Melissa Stresing left her family's dairy farm in Tillamook County to attend Oregon State, she was adamant that she was going to not work in agriculture. The senior, who will be graduating in June 2013 with a B.S. in Crop and Soil Science with an option in Soil Science, started out as an environmental engineering major. 

"I'm good at math," she explained. "But not THAT good."

Stresing found herself drawn to soil science after taking SOIL 205 Soil Science taught by James Cassidy. She began to see how soil interconnects and sustains all aspects of agriculture. And how, by working with the government through the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), she began putting into practice soil conservation methods that helped avoid erosion and soil degradation. 

"I'm drawn to soil science because I want to understand the interactions, interactions among bacteria, plants, and fungi, all occurring in soil and affecting agriculture." said Stresing.

Working directly with landowners, Stresing drew on their experiences working on the land. "Because I grew up on a farm, I can see the issues from the landowner's perspective," she explained. " I know that we need to look at soil issues from many angles: what are the benefits to the farm in the long term and is it cost effective, as well as good for the soil."

Stresing, working for the NRCS as an intern for the past three years, has been assigned three very different areas of Oregon to work in. Her first assignment was in her hometown of Tillamook, where her focus was on preventing erosion. The next year, she moved to Pendleton where she delved into issues in water quality. Finally, she has been working in Tangent, partnering with the Willamette Valley's grass seed farmers to tackle soil problems in a wetland environment.

She also interned at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in early 2011, working with biochar as part of their Tropical Plants and Soil Science program.

All this internship work has led to a full time job opportunity, as well. After graduating, Stresing will become a Soil Conservationist with the NRCS in an yet-to-be determined area in Oregon.

"I'm excited no matter where I'm assigned. Eastern Oregon is so different from Western Oregon—there will be interesting challenges no matter where I am!" she said.

Stresing is also looking forward to working on NRCS's Soil Health Initiative, dedicated to preserving and encouraging soil health and quality around the United States.

As for students interested in Soil Science, she recommends getting to know the Soils professors. "All of them have welcomed me with open arms anytime to visit with them, plan for the future, or just learn something new."

Oregon State University Researchers Develop Stripe Rust Resistant Soft White Winter Wheat

Corvallis, OR—With the baking industry in mind, Oregon State University has developed a higher-yielding soft white winter wheat that's also resistant to the disease stripe rust.

The new cultivar is known as Kaseberg and is ideal for rain-fed and irrigated areas. In field trials, the variety thrived in a number of Pacific Northwest regions, including eastern and western Oregon, southern Idaho and south central Washington.

During two years of testing in Oregon, Kaseberg averaged 136 bushels an acre on land with high rainfall or irrigation – compared with 122 bushels for similar Oregon variety Stephens and 106 for the more recent release Tubbs 06. Under low rainfall conditions, Kaseberg averaged 91 bushels per acre versus 85 for Stephens and 81 for Tubbs 06.

The new variety also resists stripe rust, a fungal disease that can cut yields in half, said Bob Zemetra, OSU's wheat breeder.

"Stripe rust resistance was fairly stable from the 1970s to 1990s,” he said. “Now the disease is changing more frequently, so breeders have to be upgrading resistance constantly."

Read more in GrainNet »

John Hart and William Young Awarded Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association Service Award

Hart and Young win award

Bill Young (left) and and John Hart (right) accept their service awards with Crop and Soil Science Alumnus Cody Younger, board member of the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association

For the first time ever, the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association gave a joint award for exceptional extension service. On January 16, 2013 in a ceremony in Albany, OR, emeritus professors John Hart and William Young were awarded the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association Service Award for 2013, recognizing their combined 62 years of service to the seed industry in Oregon.

Hart, a plant nutrition specialist and Young, a seed production specialist, published over 100 extension articles and management guides. The award also recognized their valuable on-farm research efforts that encompassed alternatives to field burning and nutrient management.

Home brewers look into growing backyard hops

Do you brew your own beer? Why not grow your own hops, too? With craft beer and home brewing becoming more popular, interest is fermenting among gardeners in backyard hops.

Oregon State University's hops breeder, Shaun Townsend, said he regularly fields questions from the public about growing hops. He also teaches workshops on "hops growing 101" to prospective hops farmers and gardeners.

Read more from OPB »

Bringing Barley Back

originally published in Oregon's Agricultural Progress. By Tiffany Woods

Pat Hayes barleyUnder a blue sky in a field near Corvallis, a combine spits nearly a ton of barley seeds into a bin on the back of a flatbed Ford. Pat Hayes plunges his hand into the golden kernels. This is the first time he has harvested this variety, named Alba, on such a large scale. Hayes, the head of Oregon State University’s barley breeding program, made the genetic cross that gave rise to Alba 15 years ago. He has been evaluating it in the field since. He’s hoping that the high-yielding grain will be a hit in beer, food, and livestock feed.

Alba is just one of about 10,000 experimental barley varieties Hayes is growing and analyzing. He’s working hard to get a little respect for the grain and keep consumers robust and regular. Hayes touts barley as a way for farmers to diversify their crops and cash in on a growing interest in microbrews and whole-grain diets.

Barley is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. More than 10,000 years ago someone in the Middle East ate it, didn’t die, and consequently started growing it. Its genus name comes from the word hordearii, or barley men, in reference to the Roman gladiators who grew burly eating barley. Today, however, barley is barely acknowledged even though it was the world’s fourth most-produced cereal in terms of metric tons in 2010, grown mainly for animal feed. Barley is thought of as a gummy gruel for orphans in a Dickens novel, unless you’re in Tibet, where the dietary staple is a dumpling called tsampa, a mix of barley flour, tea, and yak butter.

Honey-colored fields of barley used to be a more common sight in Oregon. The state’s output peaked at 21.9 million bushels in 1957, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2011, the state’s farmers harvested just 2.4 million bushels, earning gross sales of $10.6 million, according to a report from the OSU Extension Service, the lowest production since 1909. That same year, barley made up only 2.5 percent of all grains harvested in Oregon in terms of bushels, and it ranked 47th in gross sales among the state’s agricultural commodities.

At OSU’s Hyslop Farm near Corvallis, 10 acres of barley heads chatter in the breeze. With clipboards in hand, Hayes and his team are evaluating these thousands of different genetic crosses to see how well they resist disease, tolerate the cold, and perform in the kitchen and brewery. They’re also taking note of their yields, growing some of them organically, and seeing how much water and nitrogen they need.

After all the measuring, weighing, malting, and milling; the poking and prodding in the lab; cold winters, soggy roots, fungal infections, insect bites; after enduring all this for years, only a handful of these varieties will make it to market. Consider that over the past 26 years, Hayes has released just 12 new varieties and germplasms. It’s not for a lack of trying: barley breeding just takes time when you’re hand-pollinating the flowers and waiting through at least one season to see if the desired traits show up.

But Hayes is working on speeding up the process. He’s using a technique called doubled haploid production. “By 2013, all of our new plantings here will be doubled haploids,” he says, scanning the field at Hyslop. The technique involves regenerating plants from pollen in a petri dish, and creating genetically pure lines of barley in just one generation, as opposed to the six to eight years required through traditional inbreeding. The plant will produce the same barley year after year. Hayes emphasizes that this faster technique is not genetic engineering; no DNA is added, removed, or modified.

Breeding new barley varieties, however, accounts for less than half of OSU’s work with the grain. For every new variety released, Hayes’ team publishes about 12 journal articles on their other research, which involves studying some of barley’s 30,000 genes. They’re trying to identify genes that allow barley to withstand low temperatures, resist disease, and survive with little water and nitrogen. They’re looking for genes responsible for malting quality, nutritional properties, and flowering time. They’ve partnered on this research with countries that include Australia, Germany, Japan, Scotland, and Uruguay.

Walking among the rows at OSU’s farm, Hayes points out his barleys as if they were students in his plant genetics class. They’re under so much pressure to achieve. If they don’t, they’ll never graduate from his program. There’s Streaker, a “naked,” or hull-less, food barley that resists stripe rust and was named after the campus exhibitionists of the 1970s. It’s expected to graduate in 2013. Unfortunately, it’s a bit bronzed around the arse by a fungus called scald, the common cold of barley that eats away at yield and seed size. Next is Verdant, from the Class of 2010. It’s a high-yielder meant for livestock forage because it doesn’t have sandpapery awns—or beards as they say—that could hurt animals’ mouths. Then there’s Maja, which is getting chewed up by scald, but two shots of fungicide should clear it up, Hayes says. Alba is the tall beauty queen, the teacher’s latest pet. The screensaver image on Hayes’ computer shows his wife smiling in front of a field of it. “The woman of my life and the barley of my life,” he says. On down the line is Charles, a variety from Idaho that has lamentably failed its midterm at OSU. The stunted plant is falling over and ravaged by disease. “You would want fungicide fed into it intravenously,” Hayes says, adding that it’s an agronomic disaster in the Willamette Valley, although it does well in drier climates.

Getting barley into beer steins is one of Hayes’ priorities. The grain is, after all, an essential ingredient in most beers. Traditionally, big brewers have wanted bland barley and relied on hops and malting for flavor, Hayes says. But barley is getting more attention thanks to an increase in small craft brewers and demand from consumers, says Zach Christensen, an OSU graduate and McMinnville farmer who grows and malts barley that he later sells to brewers.

“Craft brewers want to be able to create something that is unique, different, and good so they can tell that story as part of their marketing,” says Christensen, who grows some of Hayes’ barley. “Consumers are looking for a locavore story and to have a beer they feel good about.”

With that in mind, Hayes is trying to develop barley that reflects the terroir—or soil and climate—of Oregon, much like wine grapes. Additionally, he and OSU researcher Alfonso Cuesta-Marcos are seeing if genes influence the flavor of barley. They’re also breeding barleys that have desirable malting qualities. To be a malting barley, the grain has to be low in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that impedes filtration during brewing and post-fermentation. OSU’s work has caught the attention of California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Co. The brewers plan to make beer from 50 to 100 exotic varieties of barley from around the world grown in 2012 by OSU. Then they’ll analyze how the beer tastes.

In addition to putting the bar back in barley, Hayes is trying to put barley back into people’s diets—sans beer bottles. He sees potential in barley because it contains beta-glucan, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol. Its low glycemic index and high fiber content make it a healthy choice for those with diabetes or who want to shed some pounds, he says. So Hayes is developing new types of barley for food, including ones crossed with multicolored barley from Mongolia, Nepal, and Tibet. He’s hoping they’ll have a unique aroma and flavor and will appeal to consumers looking for novel, nutritious grains.

To help tempt consumers, OSU’s Andrew Ross is developing some ambitious recipes. Ross is a cereal, or as he says, surreal, scientist who studies what goes on inside bread with all its proteins, starches, and enzymes. He’s pushing the limits with barley, replacing up to half the wheat flour in bread recipes with barley flour. His repertoire includes baguettes, pita breads, sourdoughs, focaccia, and even pretzels that have been served in the OSU president’s box at football games. Ross also makes a door-stopping rosette loaf, a real fiber bomb that’s not for the faint-hearted. “Don’t drop them on your toe,” he warns.

Making bread from barley is not without its challenges. You can’t use just any old barley. Unlike beer barley, it has to be high in beta-glucan. Barley flour sucks up water like a herd of thirsty camels, so bakers usually need to add more liquid. And dough made with all barley flour hardly rises because it doesn’t trap the gas produced by yeast like wheat gluten does.

Farmer Tom Hunton is excited about barley’s rising future. “It’s the new super food,” says the co-owner of Camas Country Mill. He grabs a bag of his cracked barley cereal off the shelf at his stone gristmill near Eugene. The cereal is made from a variety called Tamalpais, but he’s eager to replace it with Hayes’ soon-to-be-released multicolored Streaker because it yields more and he anticipates that it will turn out to be more nutritious once it’s analyzed in the lab.

Hunton says he’s growing barley, including some of Hayes’ varieties, for the first time in at least three decades. He had stopped because it didn’t pencil out; grass seed and wheat were more profitable. “I’ve been drinking Pat’s Kool-Aid,” he says of his reason for taking it up again.

Back at OSU’s barley field, the combine is almost finished pouring the Alba seeds into the bin. Hayes feels like a composer hearing the public debut of his music. He wants it to be good. He rolls a handful of kernels in his palm. The golden grains trickle between his fingers. They’re big, blond, and bountiful. Hayes couldn’t be happier. His years of hard work in the field and lab have paid off.

“It’s nice to grow them and do research on them,” he says, “but at the end of the day it’s nice to see them in a bin.”

More information on OSU's barley breeding program is at

Canola in the Valley

originally published in Oregon's Agricultural Progress. By Gail Wells

Some scientists might relish seeing their research at the center of a vigorous policy dispute, but Carol Mallory-Smith is not one of them. “I try to stick to the science and stay out of the spotlight,” she says.

Mallory-Smith is a weed scientist with Oregon State University’s crop and soil science department. She is fascinated with how plants hybridize, how they spread their genes and cross-pollinate.

Such study might suggest tranquil scenes of birds and bees and a gentle breeze. But, no. Mallory-Smith’s interest in cross-pollination has led her to investigate the flow of genes between genetically modified crops and their conventional counterparts. And that has propelled her into one of today’s hottest environmental controversies.

“I didn’t intend to get into these political issues,” she says. But as a scientist at a public land grant university, her work is used by policymakers to shed light on such heated public debates.

Mallory-Smith is a careful and precise speaker, neither overstating the science nor backing away from its implications. In a situation where feelings run high, she is regarded as an unbiased spokesperson for the research—a straight shooter, neither a demonizer nor a booster of genetic modification.

But sometimes the grenades of controversy hit uncomfortably close to home. Currently, research by Mallory-Smith and her OSU colleagues has become Exhibit A in an agricultural tempest raging in OSU’s backyard. The dispute is pitting specialty vegetable and vegetable-seed farmers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley against grass-seed farmers who want to grow canola, a rotation crop that can yield a profit as a source of both food and fuel.

Canola is a member of the sprawling Brassica family, which includes good-for-you vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli. Canola can cross-pollinate with some of these crops and with their weedy wild relatives. That worries some vegetable-seed growers who must assure the genetic purity of their seeds. And because the Oregon Department of Agriculture makes no distinction between genetically modified and conventional canola (both are legal crops) the valley’s organic farmers worry that they won’t be able to sell their products as organic if they’re cross-pollinated with genetically modified canola.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture permits canola to be grown in three areas east of the Cascades, and, since 2009, in small patches on the valley’s fringe. At the moment, no canola is grown in the heart of the valley except by special research permit. The state’s restrictions on canola date from 2005, when OSU scientists, including Mallory-Smith, reported many scientific unknowns and potentially high risk of allowing canola into a neighborhood of high-value specialty seed farms.

The state is now proposing a changed rule that would allow limited acreage in the valley to be planted in canola under specific conditions. Although this is only a proposed rule, to be decided in 2013, it worries specialty seed farmers. Canola is “an aggressive and persistent weed that can and will outcross” with related Brassicas, says Nick Tichinin, a Polk County farmer whose company, Universal Seed Co., supplies vegetable seed to a worldwide market of vegetable producers and home gardeners. “We’re introducing a new pest into a currently closed system.”

The Willamette Valley is a great place to grow seeds—wet, mild winters encourage plant growth while dry, warm summers help set seed. One of just a handful of places in the world with a similar climate, the valley produces much of the world’s Brassica seeds, accounting for $25 million annually. Unlike canola, specialty seed crops are painstakingly bred and tended, says Tichinin. “We are part of a unique, little-known, essential, and now jeopardized, worldwide seed supply chain.”

Bringing a rampant Brassica like canola into the valley, says Tichinin, would risk contaminating their crops— an entire seed lot will be rejected if a tiny proportion is not the true variety. And contamination with engineered genes could drive organic growers out of business, he says.

On the other side of the debate are the grass-seed farmers, who are looking for a good rotation crop. “Canola is fantastic for rotation,” says Kathy Hadley, a Polk County farmer and member of the Willamette Valley Oilseed Association. “It does all the things a rotation crop is supposed to do: utilizes different nutrients in the soil, reduces disease pressure on your main crop, and allows you to use a different chemical regime to control weeds. It has a taproot that breaks up the soil pan and provides a good soil structure for no-till agriculture.”

And, unlike most other rotation crops, canola is profitable. It can be made into both a food-grade oil for cooking and fuel for biodiesel. Oregon law requires that diesel fuel contain 5 percent biodiesel. And governor John Kitzhaber’s 2012 energy plan calls for replacing 20 percent of Oregon’s fleet vehicles with cars and trucks that run on alternative fuels, including biodiesel.

Is Oregon’s agricultural Eden big enough for both canola fields and specialty-seed operations? How can science shed light on this heated debate?

“The biology of the plant makes a big difference,” says Mallory-Smith. “Is it cross-pollinated or self-pollinated? If cross-pollinated, is the pollen carried by wind or insects? And if a cross occurs, how viable are the hybrid offspring?”

Mallory-Smith and her OSU colleagues are working on questions like these. When the precautionary no-canola boundary was established in 2005, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) relied on the scientific advice of OSU researchers. Preparing to revisit the issue in 2010, ODA commissioned a full study from a team headed by Russ Karow, head of OSU’s crop and soil science department.

In addition to reviewing existing studies on canola, the team, which included Mallory-Smith, conducted field trials in the valley under a special research permit. These trials included plantings on Kathy Hadley’s farm in 2008 and 2009.

Pests and diseases common to many Brassica varieties were present in the trials. And the researchers found that canola seeds stay viable in the soil for two or three years, raising the risk that canola could become a weed in subsequent crops or along roadsides and waterways.

As with many scientific studies, the team noted that the research “resulted in as many questions as answers.” Confirming the presence of insects and diseases led to the question of how these might spread from field to field and how long pests might persist. Confirming that the seed could stay viable for years led to the question of how farmers or regulators might control maverick canola plants along roadsides and field edges. And because plants have to flower at the same time to cross-pollinate, the researchers questioned if using plants with mismatched flowering cycles might limit cross-pollination.

“Given the potential risk,” the researchers concluded, “precaution suggests not allowing canola production at this time.” ODA opted to keep the 2009 precautionary rule, but reopened the case in 2012.

The researchers continued their work. In a report released in 2012, Mallory-Smith and OSU colleagues James Myers and Michael Quinn addressed additional risks posed by genetically engineered canola. They researched pollen movement and concluded that pollen from a large field of canola could overwhelm a small planting of, say, Siberian kale, which is highly compatible with canola.

They looked at studies from other researchers on transport of seed by humans, birds, rodents, and insects, and concluded that canola could become a persistent weed problem in a subsequent crop, in areas adjacent to fields, and along roadsides. And they cited a Canadian analysis of canola seed that had been certified as non-transgenic, but found that 24 of the 25 tested lots contained transgenic seeds.

Caution, the researchers conclude, is still the watchword. “This study provides strong evidence that it will be difficult to prevent the introduction of transgenic canola into an area even if there [were] a provision to only allow conventional canola production in the Willamette Valley.”

The canola debate moved to the state capitol in September of this year, when farmers on both sides made their case. Science can do much to shed light on such controversial issues, but science cannot make the decision. That is the responsibility of the policymaker.

It is not easy to stand by and watch warring factions argue about your work. But having contributed the best science she can, Mallory-Smith stresses that the outcome is not up to her. “The decision-makers are listening to the science, and they understand the science,” she says. “They have to make a regulatory decision based on what they see as the greater good.”

Roughstalk bluegrass emerges as problem in grass seed fields

Two consecutive rainy springs are being cited as the primary reason for an influx of roughstalk bluegrass in Willamette Valley grass seed.

With the industry's top control option all but eliminated, growers are finding it difficult to keep the weed in control and keep stands viable.

In some cases, growers will be wise to pull out stands earlier than planned, according to Andy Hulting, Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences weed control specialist.

"Particularly, some of the tall fescue fields are going to have to come out, because we don't have the tools to manage it in those fields," Hulting said.

Read more in the Capital Press »

OSU faculty helping farmers in other countries

THE DALLES, Ore. -- Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences faculty are helping feed the world through an international program that helps foreign farmers improve crop production.

And, in the process, they are learning a little something about themselves.

Brian Tuck and Ross Penhallegon are among several OSU extension faculty who have been participating in a U.S. Agency for International Development program that is helping improve crop production around the world.

"It's fun, exciting, and the main thing is being able to help people grow food," said Penhallegon, a Lane County extension agent who has participated in more than two dozen USAID-backed farmer-to-farmer excursions.

Read more in the Capital Press »

OSU tests quinoa rice as NW crop for global demand

— Quinoa has higher amounts of calcium, iron, fiber and vitamin B than rice, wheat and barley. 
By University of Oregon Extension Office

Researchers from Oregon State University are exploring the potential for quinoa to grow in the Northwest’s diverse climates.

Preliminary experiments have shown that some varieties of quinoa, harvested for its tiny grain-like seeds, can be cultivated in Oregon. To expand on those findings, OSU is a partner on a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Read more in the Natural Resource Report »

New OSU Extension Crop Specialist to Start in March

Although he grew up in Emporia, Kan., and is completing a doctorate at Purdue University in Indiana, new OSU Extension seed crop specialist Paul Marquardt is no stranger to the Pacific Northwest.

In March, Marquardt, 32, will begin his duties as an assistant professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University. He succeeds Mark Mellbye, who has retired.

He earned an undergraduate degree in biology in 2003 from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.

“I’m excited to be coming back to the Pacific Northwest,” Marquardt said. “I love being outdoors and I miss the hiking, camping and mild weather of the Northwest.”

He also enjoys pheasant and quail hunting.

Although he grew up surrounded by agriculture, Marquardt said it was a summer internship with Washington State University in 2002 that sparked his interest in it as a career.

“I worked on pest management in broccoli,” Marquardt said. “I had been thinking about a career in medical technology or pharmacy, but I really enjoy working outside.”

In the summer of 2003, Marquardt again worked with Washington State, this time in apple orchards near Wenatchee.

“That got me even more involved,” he said.

Marquardt will graduate in March with a doctorate in weed science. He also completed a master’s degree in entomology at Purdue in 2007.

“I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with grass seed, but I’m excited to learn,” Marquardt said. “The pest and weed management that goes into producing corn or soybeans is the same as grass seed. There are just different pests and other issues to deal with.”

The move to Oregon also puts Marquardt closer to his parents — his father was a Lutheran minister and his mother a high school biology teacher — who retired 10 years ago and moved to Wenatchee.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” Marquardt said. “I hope to make a mark in the valley, to help the growers in the valley, especially from the pest control side of farming.”

Derek Godwin, Outreach and Engagement Regional Administrator for Linn, Benton, Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties, said Marquardt rose to the top in a field of many applicants.

“Paul brings a variety of skills that we’re excited about,” Godwin said. “He has a strong academic background in farming, weed science and entomology, as well as plant science. His background is also well-balanced in field research, publishing and extension work. He has made a lot of presentations and has done a lot of field work with farmers.”

Marquardt also has a “personality that will allow him to build relationships with growers and be successful within the campus system as well,” Godwin said.

The Linn County Board of Commissioners strongly supported filling the position, even though Oregon State and the Extension Service have experienced budget cuts.

“I commend OSU Extension for making the hire and supporting agribusiness,” said Roger Nyquist, chairman of the board of commissioners. “Agriculture is important to Oregon and a key economic segment of the mid-valley economy.”

(Gazette-Times, December 25, 2012)


OSU has new potato breeding head after two-year vacancy

Oregon State University once again has a plant breeder leading its potato development efforts after filling a position that was vacant for nearly two years.

Sagar Sathuvalli, who started this month, is leading OSU's work to create new varieties of potatoes that are more nutritious and resist pests and diseases, including late blight. He is based at its Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

A native of India, Sathuvalli spent most of the last decade in Corvallis, earning doctoral and master’s degrees in horticulture from OSU. In 2011, he began working as a post-doctoral research associate in hazelnut breeding and genetics at OSU.

In his new post, Sathuvalli and his colleagues will search for favorable traits in wild species, then cross those potatoes with domesticated ones. Creating new breeds of potatoes can take at least 12 years, but OSU hopes to speed up the process by using genetic markers, which are sequences of DNA that are found near genes researchers are analyzing.

Sathuvalli assumes the responsibilities of departed OSU potato researchers Dan Hane, who retired, and Isabel Vales, who accepted a job elsewhere.

The position had remained vacant because of funding shortages, said Russ Karow, the head of OSU’s department of crop and soil science. A portion of Sathuvalli’s salary will be funded through an endowment created by a recent $500,000 commitment to OSU by the Oregon Potato Commission.

“There is an expectation to find new varieties for the Pacific Northwest,” Karow said. “We are in a strong cooperative relationship with the Oregon Potato Commission, regularly discussing issues and research. We work hand-in-hand with the commission to look at their research priorities.”

Sathuvalli is also working closely with OSU's potato researchers around the state, including Solomon Yilma in Corvallis, Brian Charlton in Klamath Falls and Clint Shock in Ontario. The group is collaborating on breeding and marketing efforts with peers in Washington and Idaho as part of the Pacific Northwest Tri-State Breeding Program.

“We will try to find solutions as a team,” said Sathuvalli. “My main philosophy is to listen to growers, to see what they’re interested in and any issues in variety development. I look forward to finding out what the industry needs.”

When not conducting research, Sathuvalli will perform duties for the OSU Extension Service by disseminating new information to farmers and processors. Among his top priorities is to spearhead the development of a new website.

“We will use the website to create awareness about our breeding program. It will house information useful for researchers across the globe,” said Sathuvalli. “Hopefully it will bring new collaborations, too.”

Real-time alerts about disease and pest outbreaks, such as zebra chip and tuber moth, will also be featured prominently on the website.

Potatoes were Oregon's sixth most-important agricultural commodity in terms of gross sales in 2011, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. The state's sold $165 million of them in 2011 after harvesting nearly 40,000 acres, the report said.

Working In the Heart of the Critical Zone

While the term "Critical Zone" may conjure up science fiction visions, the real-life Critical Zone is an area of immense importance to life on earth.

"The Critical Zone is the area from the base of groundwater to the top of the vegetation canopy," explains Julie Pett-Ridge, Assistant Professor of Geochemistry and Biogeochemistry in the Department of Crop and Soil Science. The term "Critical Zone" was coined about 12 years ago to describe the special place where the hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere intersect. There is a lot going on in this area: soil creation, water movement, and nutrient cycling.

Soil is at the heart of the critical zone, Pett-Ridge points out. Understanding critical zone processes is at the center of her research into biogeochemistry, the study of coupled biological and geochemical elemental cycles on the Earth’s surface.

Pett-Ridge's research focuses on three processes occurring in the critical zone: chemical weathering, soil formation, and the supply of rock-derived nutrients to ecosystems. Chemical weathering, which is the breaking down of minerals in rocks when exposed to water, leads to soil formation and the release of elements such as phosphorus, calcium, and potassium that can be taken up by plant roots.

Pett-Ridge's work has led her to work with the Critical Zone Exploration Network, a group of scientists funded by the NSF who are studying the processes that occur in the Critical Zone. CZEN works in a number of observatory sites across the US. Pett-Ridge has worked at three sites – the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico, the Hawaiian Islands  and a soil chronosequence in Merced, CA, where she has collected samples of soil, stream and rainwater, as well as plant tissue.

"These CZEN sites are valuable to us because they have previously been well studied from both an ecological and a geological perspective," explains Pett-Ridge. "Hydrology data are available too, so we can build off of that."

Working to understand the processes occurring in the Critical Zone has practical implications. For example, Pett-Ridge's work into biogeochemical cycling can lead to a better understanding of how a soil’s nutrient supply capacity changes in response to different land management practices or changing climactic conditions.

Pett-Ridge admits that she is fascinated by the complex interactions among geology, soils, climate, water and plants.

"The Critical Zone is where all these processes intersect, and it sustains all terrestrial life on the planet."

Researcher Touts Barley's Uses

Washington and Oregon farmers west of the Cascade Mountains should consider growing barley, Oregon State University professor Patrick Hayes says.

Hayes compared barley with wheat: similar tonnage per acre, similar price, 20 percent less nitrogen input, 20 percent shorter growth cycle, and it's harvested with the same machinery -- "but be ready for awns," he said.

Awns are the inedible spikelets protruding from the head of the grain. Removing them from the grain requires extra friction.

Read more in the Capital Press >

Faculty Profile: Carol Mallory-Smith

For a weed scientist concerned with generating data that helps people make better decisions on herbicide use and regulation, Crop and Soil Science Professor Carol Mallory-Smith was used to wandering into thorny situations. After all, as a researcher in the Willamette Valley, she runs across growers and businesses on both sides of the equation.  But that’s nothing compared to her recent work studying the gene flow between crops and weeds.

Simply put, gene flow occurs when one species’ genes mixes with another species’ genes – combining two separate gene pools into one. Mallory-Smith focuses much of her research on agronomic crops, where gene flow between a crop and a weed can affect seed purity, lead to less economically viable crops and tone down public enthusiasm for a specific crop.

Mallory-Smith’s most public foray into gene flow was her work on the hybrids created between jointed goatgrass, an invasive weed native to Turkey, and Oregon’s top agronomic crop  -- wheat. It’s important to minimize gene flow in this case, she says, because the genes flow both ways

“To increase production, wheat has been bred to include genes that create herbicide resistance. With gene flow, these herbicide resistant genes are being found in jointed goatgrass hybrids, creating what we definitely don’t want – an invasive weed that doesn’t respond to common herbicides like Round Up,” she explains.

Results from research studies concluded that, since jointed goatgrass is a winter weed, a spring cover crop planted before the wheat goes into the ground can go a long way into cutting down gene flow, satisfying both farmers interested in growing the herbicide-resistant crop and those looking for a more environmentally-friendly way of dealing with the problem.

Since then, Mallory-Smith has been involved in other gene flow controversies in the Willamette Valley. Most recently, she’s found herself at the center of a debate involving genetically modified sugar beets. Growers dedicated to non-GM crops are fearful that gene flow will occur between the modified sugar beets and crops like Swiss chard and table beets.

While on the surface it looks like releasing an herbicide resistant gene into the wild is less than ideal, Mallory-Smith is adamant that she’s working on a peaceful coexistence between agriculture biotechnology corporations who create genetic modifications in crops, and farmers and activists opposed to this level of scientific tinkering.

“What we need to do is move towards some agreement of center on both sides, “ she explains. “Rather than squabbling, there should be focus on solutions to rampant gene flow.”

Fulbright sends OSU's Hannaway to China

A member of Oregon State University’s faculty is one of two people in the United States to win a new award from the Fulbright Scholar Program.

David Hannaway, a forage program director and Asia Initiative liaison at OSU, received a distinguished chair award from the program to teach and research forage-related topics for eight months in China.

Read more in the Corvallis Gazette Times >

New Plant Breeding and Genetics Program Created, Offers Undergraduate Option

plant breeding
Oregon State University's vast network of plant breeders has been working quietly (and, in most cases, independently) for years, improving horticultural, food and animal feed crops, forestry products, ornamental plants, and more. Individual researchers collaborated and the creation of a formal program was discussed many times before, but there never was a united, university-wide effort focused on plant breeding—until now.

"We finally just said, 'we've got to do this!'" explained Patrick Hayes, professor, barley breeder and director of the new Plant Breeding and Genetics Program at Oregon State.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

barley rootsNow for the first time, many faculty across campus in groups such as Botany and Plant Pathology, the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, Crop and Soil Science and Horticulture are focusing their research on five primary challenges related to plant breeding for adaptation to change.

Through a USDA NIFA collaborative megaproject, plant breeding faculty are looking at ways in which they can collaborate to solve problems by improving plants. Three challenge areas were identified: plant problems posed by climate change, ways plants can aid in obesity management and human nutrition, and food safety through better plants. In addition, faculty will explore secondary challenges in animal nutrition and health and energy production.

Plant Breeding with a Purpose

The group plans to work on improving a variety of crops and plants, including grains such as wheat and barley, vegetables and fruits like grapes, tomatoes and crucifers and plants whose seeds can be used to create biofuel, like flax. 

Ryan Contreras, assistant professor, ornamental plant breeder and associate director of the program, plans to work on increasing spider mite resistance in arborvitae, which are small coniferous trees commonly used in landscapes. He also is focusing on breeding a lilac suitable for growing in the Willamette Valley.

"The cold, wet spring provides a perfect opportunity for for Lilac Blight, caused by Pseudomonas syringae, to flourish in lilacs," he explained. Creating a lilac that's resistant to pseudomonas can lead to a new, popular product for Oregon's nursery industry.

The result of all his research, Contreras hopes, is more resilient plants, including economically important nursery crops grown here in Oregon.

Collaboration with Students

In addition, a Plant Breeding and Genetics degree option has been approved, so undergraduates can now elect to focus their degree on plant breeding and genetic analysis, through either a B.S. in Horticulture or a B.S. in Crop and Soil Science. Through the Plant Breeding and Genetics degree option, students gain practical experience from the field or greenhouse to the lab.

The first Plant Breeding and Genetics-designated (PBG) classes are being taught this fall, including the popular PBG 620 DNA Fingerprinting, which teaches students how to find the differences in DNA in a single plant variety.

"Even if the DNA sequence of plant species is 99.9% identical," said Alfonso Cuesta-Marcos, an assistant professor who is currently teaching DNA Fingerprinting, "there are some plants that are tall, some that have a better agronomic yield and some that have more resistance to a disease. We assume that these qualities are found in the slight variation in DNA sequence. These variations are a plant's DNA fingerprints."

DNA Fingerprinting is part of a three-class module that includes PBG 621 Genetic Mapping and PBG 622 Mapping of Quantitative Trait Loci. This class series trains students to extract information from DNA sequences and apply that information to improving the plant. Cuesta-Marcos considers the class module essential for those interested in graduate study in plant breeding.

In the future, graduate students seeking an M.S. or a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics will be able to elect this option. Hayes anticipates the graduate program to be approved and faculty to be ready to accept students into their research programs by fall 2014.

By combining a new research program with a degree-visible option, the Plant Breeding and Genetics program hopes to capitalize on the increased efficiencies and the collegiality of students and faculty working closely together to solve problems. Also industries such as seed production, biotech firms and nurseries actively recruit recently graduates with experience breeding plants and performing genetic analysis, creating a demand for graduates with fundamental knowledge and skills in breeding plants.

"Students will come out of the PBG program having experience in DNA extraction, running gels, making crosses, developing field plans, and more," says Contreras. "There's no shortage of opportunities for hands-on learning."