Madison, Wis. – A new plant-germplasm research facility is to be built in the next few years at the University of Wisconsin-West Madison Agricultural Research Station. That’s thanks to about $ 40 million in congressionally directed funding to support plant breeding and genetic research by scientists at the UW and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service.
Germplasm is the term used to describe seeds, plants or plant parts useful in crop breeding, research and conservation efforts. The new facility will replace the 1940s-era Horticulture Annex, and the Carrot and Beet Laboratory, which are on the UW-Madison campus. US Rep. Mark Pocan, D-2-Wisconsin-Madison, said the new facility was a priority for UW leaders who approached him and the US Senate. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin-2-Madison, about funding for the project. The old facilities are outdated and in dire need of replacement, UW educators said.
Congressional earmarks enable legislators to fund projects in their communities. That’s important because state support for UW projects has declined from 40 percent to 15 percent, Pocan said. The new federal funding will be well-spent.
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“Every dollar invested in UW is $ 26 invested in Wisconsin,” he said.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the existing horticulture facilities need replacing.
“They may have been okay in 1945, but they are not okay today,” she said. “Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Pocan and their staff have worked tirelessly to bring this new facility into reality. They’re two of the best advocates this university has ever had. They understand that an investment in scientific research is an investment in the future of this country – and in the wellbeing of this state, where producing and processing specialty crops supports more than 35,000 jobs. “
The legislators helped by writing letters to key partners and speaking persuasively about the value of hearing about appropriations in the project to Wisconsin and to the nation, Blank said.
“Sen. Baldwin made sure the new building was funded this year and that it would be a collaboration between the university and the USDA, “she said. “In an historically difficult budget year, they secured about $ 40 million for a facility that would eventually qualify for a program that trained more scientists in plant breeding and plant genetics than any other in the world.”
Blank said several industry and government partners have supported the project from its early days, including the Wisconsin Vegetable and Potato Growers Association, the Midwest Food Products Association, the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers and key leaders from the campus.
Baldwin said, “(The new facility) will build on the university’s strong reputation for research and science, and put Wisconsinites to work on it all.”
The funding will enable the University to make key upgrades at the agricultural-research station of the home germplasm of national importance, she said. It will also support new research.
“Wisconsin is recognized nationwide for its diverse agricultural production and valuable research,” she said. “Funding for the facility will help ensure that farmers have the tools and research they need to be as productive and effective as possible while managing a wide array of specialty crops.”
Julie Dawson, an associate professor in horticulture and a UW-extension specialist in urban and regional food systems, is planning a new facility. She said it would enable students and other researchers to study genetics, work on breeding and genetic diversity to be used in plant breeding.
Ambar Carvallo Lopez, one of Dawson’s doctoral students in plant breeding and genetics, is working with farmers and chefs in the region to develop tomato varieties with improved flavor, fruit quality and yield. Varieties being grown and tested at area farms are tomatoes that would be sold at farmer’s markets, restaurants or for community-supported-agriculture shares.
Carvallo Lopez is focusing on different breeding lines and sending seeds to farmers in different locations. Farmers in turn select the varieties they prefer and send the seeds back to the university. That helps researchers better understand how different environmental conditions affect phenotypic diversity, she said.
Jenyne Loarca is a postdoctoral researcher who did her doctoral work in plant breeding and genetics with Dawson, as well as Phil Simon, a research leader for the vegetable-crops-research unit of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at UW-Madison. She’s working to expand the genetic diversity of cranberries because cranberry varieties are currently on the market very genetically diverse, she said. Climate change and other emerging problems could cause new problems in cranberry production.
“When we have low genetic diversity it hurts us in a corner,” she said. “If we want to improve the ability we need to change. In plant breeding, genetic diversity gives us that ability. “
To introduce new sources of genetic diversity into the cranberry-breeding program, she plans to spend two summers foraging for cranberries in the US southern states, as well as the US West Coast, in Alaska and Canada. She plans to bring back cranberry propagules, grow them in the university’s greenhouses and conduct genetic studies, she said. Traits found in those cranberries can be used to improve product flavor quality for years to come.
Funding for the new plant-germplasm research facility will come from the fiscal-year-2022 omnibus spending bill signed in March by President Joe Biden.
Visit horticulture.wisc.edu for more information.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.