Oregon’s $5 billion-a-year agriculture industry needs new breeds of grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Some food crops become vulnerable to disease and pests. Others must evolve to match the changing needs of farmers and consumers.
Relay for Wheat
When he was a college student, Bob Zemetra found the perfect career. “I liked working with plants, and I realized that in plant breeding — in theory — I could be outside in the good part of the year and inside in the bad part of the year.” Things didn’t turn out that way, he laughs. “I discovered with winter wheat, I’m planting in rain and snow, and I’m out taking data in rain.”
Wheat for the West
It is arguably the plant that made the West. Pioneers brought wheat in practically every wagon on the Oregon Trail. It fed farm families in the Willamette Valley and miners in the John Day and California gold-rush towns. It was currency and foreign exchange.
“Typically, agriculture producers are an adaptable group; however, increased heat and water stress, changes in pest and disease pressures, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for many crop and livestock production systems.”
– Oregon Climate Assessment Report
Wheat fields may have inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write a song about America’s beautiful “amber waves of grain,” but not all wheat is created equal.