Dusty sacks of euphorbia, grindelia, and Russian dandelion seeds are stacked like sandbags in a KBREC warehouse. These seeds could shape the future of Oregon agriculture. OSU scientists will plant these seeds and run these crops through a battery of tests. Their goal: to write the book on promising new crops and everything that farmers need to sow and reap successfully.
“We work out the kinks so growers can have information when they need it,” said Richard Roseberg, an OSU agronomist and expert in alternative crops. He’s looking for new crops with potential economic or environmental advantages, crops that might require less fertilizer or irrigation and still turn a profit.
Take euphorbia, for example: it’s a soft oilseed of interest to the paint and coating industry for use in drying solvents. Up to 50 percent of its weight is oil, compared to soybeans’ 20 percent, and canola’s 40 percent. Russian dandelion, a potential domestic source of rubber, is also on the radar. Its roots can be processed to produce rubber that is comparable to latex from the Brazilian rubber tree and stronger than synthetic rubber for high-impact uses such as jet aircraft tires.
“Our mission is to find crops that can replace imported and nonrenewable raw materials, like rubber and petroleum, especially materials that are strategically important to the nation,” said Roseberg. Almost every established crop in Oregon was once an alternative crop. By testing new crops, OSU researchers hope to move them beyond botanic curiosities to viable, valuable commodities. It’s a process that really puts the “experiment” in Experiment Station.