During the holiday season, families prepare festive dinners and gather with friends. In grocery stores across the U.S., people will fill their shopping carts with delicious and nutritious foods developed by animal and plant breeders at land-grant universities from southern region states.
Scientists at 15 of these universities work to improve food quality while enhancing its nutritional value and production efficiency. From protein-packed rice to longer-lasting potatoes to domestically grown vanilla and a better-tasting blackberry, southern plant breeders are ensuring that Americans’ holiday tables are filled with tasty and nutritious foods. The following research contributes to these advancements:
Oklahoma State University: Wheat
The Oklahoma State University Wheat Improvement Team is breeding wheat varieties with exceptionally high gluten quality, excellent yield and reliable disease resistance. New lines are being bred to maximize the strength of gluten. Higher gluten quality could increase profitability for producers, and when combined with high disease resistance, it could increase yields.
Louisiana State University AgCenter: Sweet Potatoes
Consumption of sweet potatoes has more than doubled in a few short years. One constant with the Louisiana State University sweet potato breeding program is the demand for varieties with superior yield and quality. Sweet potatoes are an expensive crop to produce, but they are profitable when environmental and pest management issues are properly managed. LSU researchers are continuously working to produce high-yielding, consistent varieties.
Fort Valley State University: Beef Cattle
Fixed-time artificial insemination provides a practical and feasible option for ranchers because 100% of a herd can be inseminated at a predetermined time. Fort Valley State University showed that both inseminator and sire affected the pregnancy rates and birth outcomes after AI in beef cattle.
University of Georgia: Lettuce
Lettuce and other similar vegetables are a common source of foodborne illnesses. E. coli threatens both public health and a U.S. industry valued at more than $2 billion annually. To address this threat, researchers at the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety are preparing to launch a study on E. coli colonization from a new angle –the microbiome of lettuce. The new study will look at lettuce microbes for food safety solutions.
Texas A&M AgriLife: Spinach
Spinach, one of the most popular, nutrient-rich staple vegetables, has notoriously high pesticide residues when conventionally grown. To create an organic alternative that grows more spinach for less input, a Texas A&M AgriLife plant systems physiologist is developing varieties with an improved nutraceutical profile and nitrogen-use efficiency. This will enhance the productivity and quality of the spinach variety and potentially lower costs for organic spinach.
University of Arkansas: Blackberries
Ponca, a new blackberry variety from the University of Arkansas, offers the pinnacle of flavor from one of the world’s leading public blackberry breeding programs. Ponca is the 20th blackberry from the fruit breeding program of the division’s Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.
Clemson University: Fruit
Clemson University in Charleston, South Carolina, is conducting a multistate fruit production study that addresses high priorities within the crosscutting research areas of agricultural production, processing, distribution, genetic resource development and manipulation, integrated pest management, and economic development and policy. The economic viability of growers will be enhanced through an improved selection of rootstocks that leads to greater production efficiency and improved fruit quality.
Mississippi State University: Rice
Mississippi State University scientists have released the new high-performing rice variety Leland, which is resistant to blast disease, the most prevalent rice disease in the world. Its outstanding overall grain quality meets the preferences of millers, exporters and consumers, both in the U.S. and abroad. In a grain quality evaluation test, Leland was one of only two among 17 upcoming or released varieties evaluated that garnered near-universal acceptance.
University of Florida: Vanilla
A University of Florida plant geneticist has developed a tool to unlock the traits that pinpoint a vanilla variety that produces an abundance of beans, grows efficiently and sustainably, and tastes good.
These projects are just a few examples of the work that is underway at land-grant universities in the southern U.S. Scientists are conducting research and outreach focused on conserving the region’s natural resources to identify solutions to sustainably feed a growing global population.