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Oregon State University agricultural research updates.

Oregon agriculture earns $4.4 billion in 2006

Oregon agricultural sales hit a new high in 2006 at $4.4 billion, logging a fourth straight year of sales growth. See details of Oregon’s agricultural economic performance in the “2006 Oregon County and State Agricultural Estimates,” by the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Taste testers help explore what we like to eat and why

apple and fork photo by iStock.

Wake up, taste buds! The Food Innovation Center is looking for taste testers.

We've all taken taste tests in the grocery store or at the farmers' market. We are asked, for example, to taste two kinds of apples and offer our opinions. What happens with all those opinions?

"That's my job," explained Ann Colonna, a sensory scientist at Oregon State University. Colonna works at the Food Innovation Center in Portland, and her job is to design quantitative consumer testing and sensory research. Taste tests.

For as many as 20 clients a year, and testing everything from tea to ice cream sandwiches, Colonna designs quantitative tests that involve the opinions of hundreds of people. "People love to give their opinions," Colonna smiles. "People will line up at the farmers' market to try these products and state their preferences."

"Portland is a great place for testing new food products," said Michael Morrissey, the director of the collaborative research center located in Portland's Pearl District and shared by OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "There's a large population here representing many different groups with varied tastes; it's a gathering place for alternative food systems and people who pay attention to the food they eat."

Colonna has tested everything from baby food to wine, designing tests to help food producers adjust their products to meet real consumer demands. She works closely with food companies to identify their target customers and to design scientific surveys that unravel the mysteries of consumer tastes and preferences.

"Companies can't run their own tests if they want unbiased results," Colonna explained. "Most companies want scientifically valid consumer information, and they want it on industry time, which means right now."

But sometimes it is hard to get people to come into the Food Innovation Center for taste tests, so Colonna is developing a list of volunteers for consumer testing and offering a minimum of $20.

OSU releases new wheat for Willamette Valley

Goetze wheat photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Hillsboro farmer Vince Dobbin harvests a test plot of Goetze wheat, a new Willamette Valley variety developed by OSU researchers and named after long-time OSU Extension professor Norm Goetze. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

With the introduction of a new variety of wheat for the valley, and higher wheat prices nationwide, there may be more amber waves of wheat in the Willamette Valley in coming years. Developed by OSU wheat breeders in cooperation with USDA-Agricultural Research Service, the new soft white winter wheat is named Goetze, in honor of Norm Goetze who served Oregon and the wheat industry for 40 years as an OSU Extension farm crops specialist and Extension administrator.

Although Norm Goetze spent most of his career in Corvallis, he maintained his family farm in Hillsboro. This year, next door to the Goetze farm, Hillsboro farmer Vince Dobbin worked with OSU wheat breeders to test the new Goetze wheat variety.

Goetze wheat has superior yield potential, with disease resistance and short stature well adapted to the special climate challenges of western Oregon, explained Michael Flowers, an OSU Extension cereal specialist.

Goetze replaces Foote, a soft white wheat for the Willamette Valley, which was released in 1998 by OSU. New strains of stripe rust infected Foote wheat, which when combined with a period of low wheat prices and high grass seed prices, made wheat a rare sight in the Willamette Valley in recent years. Goetze wheat is resistant to the new rust and moderately resistant to other significant diseases of the Willamette Valley, Flowers said. Foundation seed will be available in the fall of 2007, but it will be another year before commercial seed production is possible.

Wheat Research Project

Detecting drugs from caffeine to cocaine in a teaspoon of municipal wastewater

New research makes it possible to monitor the patterns of drug use from cocaine to caffeine in entire communities by using a teaspoon of wastewater from a city's sewer plant.

OSU chemist Jennifer Field and colleagues have developed an automated monitoring method that makes it possible to detect traces of drugs, both legal and illegal, in municipal wastewater. The test wouldn't be used to single out individuals, but it could help public health and law enforcement agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country.

drugs and water art by Tom Weeks.

Preliminary studies suggest that new methods of detecting drugs in wastewater can alert municipalities to problems in time to develop preventive interventions. Photo illustration: Tom Weeks

Although wastewater is often tested for contaminants after it is treated as a measure of potential environmental impact, this new approach tests sewage as it enters a wastewater treatment plant, before it is treated to get a profile of the drugs being used in the community.

The presence of both pharmaceutical and illicit drugs in municipal wastewater has been known for several years, beginning with studies in Europe that tracked the presence of drugs in sewage and river water. New methods of chemical analysis make detection possible from very small samples taken automatically over a 24-hour period from wastewater as it enters a treatment plant.

"It's like a very diluted urine sample collected from an entire community," said Field, who worked on the preliminary study with colleagues Daniel Sudakin, an OSU toxicologist, Caleb Banta-Green, a drug epidemiologist at the University of Washington, and Aurea Chiaia Hernandez, an OSU graduate student.

The analysis can detect the presence of a long list of illicit drugs, from methamphetamine to Ecstasy, and other markers of human presence such as caffeine and cotinine, a break-down product of nicotine from cigarette smoke.

"This method is most useful for drug surveillance at the community level," Field said.

Finding patterns of drug consumption in the wastewater can alert municipalities to problems that occur in particular communities or at particular times. This may be useful for tracking such things as the geographic patterns of methamphetamine use.

Up to now, most conventional studies of community-level drug abuse have been conducted in a few very large cities. This new method, because it is automated and relies on tiny samples from municipal treatment plants, can be used in more and smaller communities, making it possible to portray patterns of drug use across much more of the population.

"The methods allow us to better understand the geographic differences in the abuse of drugs within the state of Oregon," said Sudakin, who is also a physician. "We hope that these tools may be useful in identifying communities at risk and developing preventive interventions to reduce the adverse impact of methamphetamine throughout the state."