Innovations Awards Honor University of Idaho Plant Scientists

Friday, November 12 2010

Written by Bill Loftus

MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho plant breeder Jack Brown is known internationally for his work with canola, mustard and rapeseed, all oilseeds that produce an impressive range of products with edible and industrial uses.
Brown and two fellow College of Agricultural and Life Sciences scientists, potato agronomist Jeff Stark and wheat breeder Robert Zemetra, joined researchers receiving honors Thursday Nov. 11 by the University of Idaho Technology Transfer Office with Innovation Awards.
The awards recognized researchers who gained plant variety protection or patents for their inventions in fiscal year 2010. Others were honored for the issuance of licenses to businesses to market the University of Idaho developed products.
"We are extremely proud of all three plant scientists," said John Hammel, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station.
"The varieties they developed are critical to Idaho's No. 1 industry, agriculture," Hammel said. "Through their efforts, and those of our faculty throughout Idaho, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences provides critical research and development capability and serves as an important economic engine."
Zemetra's Brundage wheat variety ranked as Idaho's most popular variety and accounted for 10 percent of all of the wheat grown in Idaho this year. The Innovations Award recognizes Zemetra for developing a herbicide tolerant Clearfield cultivar of the conventional Brundage wheat so popular among growers.
Stark was honored in part for his work with the Alturas, Russet Burbank M1621 and Gemstar Russet potato varieties, which received plant variety protection this year. Alturas ranked fifth among varieties grown in Idaho in 2006 and seventh nationally.
Brown was honored for the issuance of a license to Wyoming-based AAP to commercialize eight of his mustard, canola and rapeseed varieties.
In 2010, he took steps to move two new oilseed cultivars to market: Kodiak, a brown-seeded Oriental mustard, and Arriba, a canola.
Brown's two best known mustards, IdaGold and Pacific Gold, are both condiment varieties. IdaGold, a white mustard, is used in common yellow table mustards. Pacific gold, a spicy, brown mustard, is also grown for use as a condiment. Both mustards have the ability to control weeds and nematodes, when used as biopesticides.
Kodiak, another edible mustard, also promises to fill an important role as a biopesticide. AAP licensed the three mustards among the eight varieties Brown developed that it will market to growers both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
In addition to the oils, mustard produces chemical compounds that diners prize for their sharp taste. Rapeseed, canola's industrial cousin, produces compounds valued for machine lubricants and related uses including high-quality biodiesel.
Brown's mustard varieties also provide farmers with tools to improve other crops, a market that attracted AAP's current investment in Brown's program.
Austria-based Jean Benoit Sarazin leads the AAP effort to market IdaGold, Pacific Gold and Kodiak to farmers globally. The company licensed the marketing rights to Brown's mustards and is now working to increase the market for their agricultural applications.
Sarazin wants farmers to think of each variety as a tool to target a specific need. In each case, the overall strategy is similar. The mustard plants grow until they approach the flowering stage, when the plants are plowed under. Once incorporated in the soil, the mustard plants break down and release chemicals that can kill emerging weeds, nematodes, and other soil-borne pests.
Known as green manure, the practice improves soil health and has been practiced for a long time in Europe and by organic gardeners in the U.S.
Plowing under mustard plants can provide pest control benefits that his company is betting will find a much broader market, in part because methyl bromide, a synthetic soil treatment used to protect high-value crops, is being phased out.
Pacific Gold mustard's chemical profile makes it particularly good for controlling nematodes, microscopic soil-borne worms that inflict damage on potato, strawberry and similar high-value crops.
Since Brown's breeding program released IdaGold and Pacific Gold a decade ago, licensing revenues have generated about $800,000 back to his research. The money paid for a biodiesel-powered combine and other equipment, and supported and supplemented salaries.