Western Oregon is a great place to grow vegetables, and as one might expect, vegetable production is very important here. We have large acreages of green beans and sweet corn grown for processing, and a large fresh-market industry with all kinds of vegetable crops.
I work on breeding issues wherever I see a need. For example, I breed green beans especially for the processing market, and right now, the major need is for varieties resistant to white mold. That is my goal for green beans for many years to come.
We also have a large tomato-breeding program geared for the fresh market. We’ve been developing novelty types of purple tomatoes with a class of compounds called anthocyanins that has been linked to many health benefits.
Breeding is a numbers game. We’re looking for that unique genotype or combination of genes that will produce tastier, healthier, more resilient vegetable varieties. It takes much work to find those particular individual or combinations of genes, a long time, and large plots for variety trials. Certain technologies, like genomics, help speed the investigation, but it’s still very much a numbers game.
As a breeder, I am cognizant of the challenges of climate change and the need to breed robust and resilient varieties that will tolerate the weather extremes we are seeing more frequently. Breeding for stability and resilience is something I have been doing for some time, particularly for organic systems. Vegetable varieties that do well under organic production are usually more stable than those bred for conventional systems. So I see the goals of breeding for organic systems and breeding for climate change to be convergent.