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Oregon State University Agricultural Research updates

Food Innovation Center opens in Portland

Oregon State University's Food Innovation Center is an experiment station where the laboratory is a microcosm of the consumer market.

Man surrounded by boxed food.

John Henry Wells heads the new OSU Food Innovation Center. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

"There's no place else like this in the country," said OSU food scientist John Henry Wells, newly appointed superintendent of OSU's 13th, and newest, agricultural experiment station, located in north Portland.

Wells is doing double duty as both the superintendent and the program leader in packaging and logistics research at the facility. More than 10 years in the planning, the $9.4 million Food Innovation Center is the result of a partnership between OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The center melds the ODA's expertise in marketing and export review with OSU's research programs in food packaging, consumer sensory science, agricultural marketing and trade economics. The center's primary interaction is with food processors and producers and international trade delegates interested in Oregon products such as wheatberry caviar, smoked salmon, and chocolate-covered cherries and blueberries.

To serve both the manufacturers of such products and their prospective buyers, OSU oversees an ever-evolving slate of programs that help food processors overcome barriers to technical development, production, distribution or marketing.

For example, product testing done at the FIC identifies problems that might derail a product's market potential well before the product is released for sale. Tasters and product testers sit behind a wall of one-way mirrors to access the taste, smell, "mouth feel" and other intangibles that can make or break a product in the marketplace.

Improving the safety and package durability of processed foods is another ongoing project. Food manufacturers from all over the country can avail themselves of a fully equipped, simulated "mini-factory" to make products safer for consumers.

As an example, Wells pointed out a large Plexiglas box that resembles an infant's incubator but actually is part of a new, ultra-clean beef-grinding technology. The beef is ground in the "incubator" in an inert gas environment that reduces the chances of air-borne contamination and bacterial growth.

Package durability is another issue with manufacturers eager to reduce inventory losses due to shipping damage. An instrument at the center that looks like a cross between a high-tech guillotine and an old-fashioned photo enlarger can deliver a pinpoint measurement of just how much force is required to crush everything from a delicate pear to the sturdiest shipping box.

Assisting processors with keeping their production costs under control is another research area for the FIC. Catherine Durham, an OSU assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics, is analyzing economic factors that impact Northwest agricultural producers and processors. Durham is working on agricultural marketing and trade issues for clients who include grass seed growers, potato producers and winemakers.

Monsanto Company Donates Wheat Plant Material to OSU

A substantial gift of wheat plant material from Monsanto Company has, in effect, doubled the size of Oregon State University's internationally recognized wheat breeding program.

The donation-in the form of wheat germplasm and seed stocks-represents an investment of several million dollars in breeding and development research, and seven years of wheat breeding efforts by HybriTech International, a subsidiary of Monsanto.

Wheat stalk.

Photo: OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications

"This body of plant material is a complete wheat breeding program in itself," said Jim Peterson, OSU crop scientist and head of the OSU wheat breeding program. "These unique plant populations and genetic stocks will be of great value in our research program."

All of the seed is from conventionally bred genetic stocks and germplasm, Peterson said. None of the stocks were derived through biotechnology or transgenic research efforts, he added.

The OSU wheat breeding program collaborated with HybriTech breeders in the Pacific Northwest through exchange of plant material from 1993 until late last year when Monsanto discontinued its hybrid wheat efforts. The donation from Monsanto includes all seed and germplasm stocks that originated from OSU and subsequently were improved by the breeding teams of HybriTech.

"I believe very little of the donated plant material will be a duplication of the germplasm already in OSU's program," Peterson said. "Every breeder has unique observation and selection skills, so we expect this material developed by Monsanto breeders will provide a rich source of variation to our program. HybriTech had several very talented breeders working with the company. Closure of the program was a reflection of the competitive seed market and high costs of producing hybrid seed, not of their breeding skills or of the genetic progress made to date."

Monsanto offered the stocks to OSU with only one restriction-that seed or germplasm from the donated materials not be provided to any commercial competitor of Monsanto. Stocks will be managed as a public resource and shared with other public breeding programs in the Pacific Northwest, including those at Washington State University, University of Idaho and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.

"Public wheat breeding programs are key to the advancement of U.S. wheat varieties, as they have developed approximately 98 percent of the varieties grown today," said Sally Metz, director of wheat technology for the Monsanto Company.

"We want to ensure that the potential advancements we made in developing this germplasm are not lost due to the discontinuation of hybrid wheat development," Metz added. "We are hopeful that access to this material will enable public breeding programs to introduce additional valuable varieties to U.S. wheat growers."

"I expect the stocks to be of great benefit to our breeding and genetics research, but more importantly, the donation will benefit wheat growers throughout the Pacific Northwest as new high-yielding varieties are developed and released from the germplasm," said Peterson. "We in the OSU breeding program are very appreciative that Monsanto would consider donating the seed stocks to OSU, rather than lose this valuable germplasm base."

Scientists Study Grazing Impacts on Land Near Streams

Studies conducted in eastern Oregon show that properly managed cattle grazing improves cattle distribution and uniform forage use. Researchers are hopeful that the study results will aid ranchers and land managers in creating grazing plans compatible with healthy riparian areas (stream banks), according to Tim DelCurto, an Oregon State University range beef cattle scientist.

DelCurto heads an interdisciplinary team of scientists from two Pacific Northwest universities and the U.S. Forest Service who are studying the impacts of managed livestock grazing during summer months on stream ecosystems in eastern Oregon.

Man pointing at stream.

Tim DelCurto leads an interdisciplinary team of scientists studying the grazing behavior of cattle and grazing impacts on stream banks.Photo: Bob Rost

"Over the last five years, the research team has focused on mapping livestock distribution in a grazing area that includes a stream in order to find out where cattle migrate in the area during the day," DelCurto said.

The study is located at the OSU Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center's Hall Ranch east of Union.

The team found that cattle tend to graze in areas a good distance away from the stream during the early morning hours. The cattle then search for water in late morning and finally seek shade, or graze less intensively during hot afternoon hours. Also, cattle tended to spend the afternoon in the same areas as they drank, then move away from the water source in the evening.

The researchers assessed strategies for improving livestock distribution by luring cattle away from streams, DelCurto said.

"We found that providing sources of water-called off-stream water-and salt in grazing areas will draw cattle away from a stream, usually in the afternoon hours," he said.

In the study, the distribution of cattle that had the stream as the only water source was compared to the distribution of cattle with access to off-stream water and salt. Cattle with the stream as the only water source were, on average, 150 to 200 feet away from the stream from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

By comparison, cattle in the off-stream water group tended to be, on average, 350 to 400 feet away from the stream during those same hours.

Research team members are Mike McInnis, range scientist, and John Tanaka, range economist, Oregon State University; Patrick Momont, beef cattle nutritionist, and Neal Rimbey, range economist, University of Idaho; and James McIver, forestry specialist, USDA Forest Service.

The study also focused on timing of grazing, which is a measurement of grazing time versus resting time along with consideration of where cattle move as they graze on a day-to-day and seasonal basis, DelCurto said.

"This information will help our understanding of what cattle do, depending on time of season and weather conditions, when a stream or creek lies within their grazing range," he said.

These research results were reported in "Grazing Behavior of Livestock and Wildlife," 1999; Idaho Forest, Wildlife & Range Experiment Station Bulletin number 70, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

Ultimately, DelCurto said, the researchers hope their studies will find that careful management of livestock to ensure uniform distribution throughout grazing areas is a better solution for protecting riparian areas than fencing streams or excluding grazing altogether.

According to DelCurto, building and maintaining fences to exclude cattle from riparian areas is costly, causes access problems for wildlife and recreational users, and may detract from the aesthetics of public and private stream bank lands. As a result, fencing of riparian areas may not be completely compatible with the multiple use goals of our range resources, DelCurto said.

Current research is focused on animal factors-such as age, lactation, stage of lactation and breed-that may influence distribution patterns and resource use, DelCurto said.