Oregon is a really good place to grow wheat. We grow primarily soft white winter wheat, a top-quality wheat that’s in high demand by our international customers. Oregon exports 80 to 90 percent of the wheat produced in the state.
In breeding new varieties of wheat, we face two related challenges. The first is battling disease, either a new disease like soilborne wheat mosaic virus that we now have on the east side of the state; or an older disease like stripe rust that mutates so that wheats that had been resistant are now susceptible.
Add to that the challenge of climate change, which can magnify the severity of disease. If we have a mild winter, we have the potential for a much worse stripe rust year. If we have a late frost, we have an increased population of aphids that cause barley yellow dwarf disease. So diseases are the number one problem. But a changing climate exacerbates the problem.
Our breeding program is developing varieties that have good disease resistance, as well as good yield potential and the enduse quality that the domestic and overseas customers demand. We’re expanding our market classes, breeding new varieties of both hard white and hard red winter wheat. Our goal is to develop high-yielding wheat varieties that require less inputs, which means improved disease resistance and increased tolerance to drought and extreme shifts in temperature.