Skip to main content

plant breeding

Will Chestnuts Roast on an Open Fire Again Someday?

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio. Today we learn more about how the National Institute of Food and Agriculture invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Seventy years ago, when Nat “King” Cole first regaled us about roasted chestnuts in The Christmas Song, not many Americans could actually enjoy the treat because American chestnut trees were in dire straits.

The predominant tree in Eastern American forests was nearing the tail end of a 50-year blight that killed an astonishing three to five billion trees, making the species functionally extinct. Now, however, researchers supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are working to restore the American chestnut and may be only a few years away from bringing back the iconic tree.

Heroes of the Harvest: Breeding program brings better, safer corn to South

NOTE: This week on the USDA Blog, we’ll feature the stories of America’s Harvest Heroes who, like farmers across the nation, are working this harvest season to secure the bounty of healthy food American agriculture is renowned for. From laying the foundation for the next generation of farmers putting down roots in rural America, supporting the fruit and vegetable growers who are helping to build healthier communities, bolstering new markets for the products of agricultural innovation, to harvesting renewable energy that is made in Rural America, with USDA’s support our farmers are yielding strong results for every American Today, we look at a Hero of a different type.  Dr. Murray is not necessarily on a tractor, but his import research is helping Southern corn growers realize higher yields when they bring in their harvest.

Dr. Seth Murray grew up in suburban Michigan and, after spending time on his grandfather’s farm, knew from a young age he wanted to work with plants. Today, he conducts corn breeding research at Texas A&M University and recently published findings that could mean big things for the corn producers of Texas and the American Southwest region – a greater harvest of disease-free corn and more food on the tables of consumers.

Enhancing the Flavor of Food through Plant Breeding

Vegetables are becoming more flavorful and sustainable through plant breeding. Plant breeding is at the core of the seed-to-table movement—using selective breeding to develop plant varieties that possess exceptional culinary properties and the ability to thrive in a sustainable production system.

One plant variety leading the way in this movement is a series of mini-butternut squash developed by a Cornell University researcher, Michael Mazourek. He began the project as part of a $2.5 million Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant awarded to Oregon State University, which resulted in a national network of organic plant breeders, the Northern Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). The grant is funded by National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).