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Oregon State studies meadowfoam uses, new crop varieties

In the continuing thrust to bring meadowfoam into greater use for Oregon growers, Oregon State University researchers have launched a comprehensive study program focused on comprehensive uses for the crop.

Known as Limnanthese alba, and first planted as a crop in 1980, meadowfoam is gathering interest as a seed oil crop with a long chain of fatty acids that have a unique physical and chemical property, explains Jennifer Kling, OSU Crop and Soil Science program assistant.

Perhaps the most familiar use of meadowfoam is in personal-care products such as lotions, but it is gaining interest as a fuel additive and a component of vehicle lubricants, she explains, as well as for its pharmaceutical potential.

“Seed meal is high in glucosinolates,” she says, “and degradation products are known to have biopesticidal properties.”

Key Points

Comprehensive meadowfoam research is under way at Oregon State University.

The rotation crop for grass seed is important to the Willamette Valley.

Meadowfoam’s many potential uses underscore the value of the crop.

The winter annual, which Kling believes could be an “important rotation crop for the grass seed industry in the Willamette Valley,” stirred interest during a recent field day at OSU’s Hyslop Farm near Corvallis, Ore.

Many grass seed farms that exist in the region are struggling in the wake of the housing industry crisis, which has resulted in cutbacks among contractors for landscape products such as grass seed. Finding alternative crops is much on the minds of these growers today, particularly those from nearby Lind County, which claims to be the “grass seed capital of the world.”

New meadowfoam varieties are under study at the field station, including the following:

MF 189, selected for high seed yield

MF 191, selected for high seed yield, upright growth and disease resistance (Botrytis, a common disease of meadowfoam, and fusarium became a concern three years ago.)

OMF 58 C6, for which 270 cultivars are being screened

MC 190, selected for high seed yield

M 192, picked for high seed yield, upright growth and disease resistance

“We have other breeding program highlights as well,” says Kling, “including new equipment for rapid, nondestructive oil content analysis. This is up and running in the OSU seed lab, and permits us to conduct routine screenings of new germplasm for high oil content.”

“Work is also under way on ‘autofertile’ varieties, which will reduce the need for commercial honeybees,” she adds.

Existing autofertile varieties prove to be about 10% lower yielding than benchmark commercial varieties like Ross and Starlight under optimal conditions.

Additional studies in meadowfoam at OSU include screening for genetic variation in oil content and in primary and secondary seed dormancy, as well as an effort to develop molecular genetic tools that may assist in selection of these traits, explains Kling.

Pollinator research is also under way to survey meadowfoam fields to identify and quantify prevalence of native pollinators, she adds. The study, hopefully, will reveal how the activity of different pollinators varies throughout the day.

Weed control studies focus on three registered products for meadowfoam (clethodim, clopyralid and s-metolachlor). “The need is to be able to control a broader spectrum of weeds with greater crop safety,” says Kling.

FOAMING MEADOW: This field of meadowfoam at Oregon State University’s Hyslop Research Farm provides a sprawling study for the crop researchers.

Jennifer Kling

This article published in the July, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.