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Washington State University
WSU Research Food Production

Food production

Producing more high-quality, safe food while minimizing environmental impact

Each year the world’s population grows by about 82 million people.1 To feed burgeoning communities worldwide, we must develop sustainable methods of food production. New approaches must increase production volume while maintaining nutritional standards and safety.

WSU scientists aim to transform food production methods to increase quality, quantity, and sustainability. Their problem-solving research keeps the state’s $35 billion food and agriculture industry among the most competitive in the world. What’s more, their discoveries deepen understanding of underlying disciplines: plant and animal genetics, metabolism, physiology, pathology, and food science. They lay the groundwork for the next generation of production systems to provide nutritious, plentiful food for humans and animals.

1. “Concise Report on the World Population Situation in 2014,” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2014

Research areas

  • Optimized agricultural practices
  • Available and affordable food
  • Nutritious and safe foods
  • A closeup of the top of an apple Innovation for Washington’s signature industry

    WSU created a brand new apple variety called Cosmic Crisp™, known for its excellent flavor, good texture, and superior storage. Cosmic Crisp™ is a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp.

    More than 600,000 trees are expected to be planted this spring, and growers have ordered over 5 million trees for 2018. First harvest will be in 2019. Fruit will become widely available to consumers in 2020.

    Cosmic Crisp™ is the latest example of WSU’s world-class tree fruit breeding program and the University’s commitment to the state’s tree-fruit industry.

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  • A closeup of green grapes growing Conserving water, improving Washington’s white wine

    WSU researchers inform irrigation strategies

    Washington is a leading producer of Riesling and Chardonnay wine grapes. In fact, these two grapes account for 75 percent of the white wine grape production in the state.

    In arid eastern Washington, where most of the state’s wine grapes are grown, efficient irrigation is the name of the game. But it can be particularly challenging for white wine grapes. If a grower anticipates a heat wave, he or she can have a hard time figuring out how much to irrigate. Overwatering could result in too much canopy growth at the expense of berry production, and not enough water could … » More …

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  • A photo of a wheat field Managing nitrogen to save money and the environment

    Researchers seek ways to precisely target fertilizer application

    Nitrogen is a nutrient required for crops to grow. When soils lack a natural supply, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers provide a quick fix, boosting nitrogen to the levels needed. Since World War II, these fertilizers have played a vital role in increasing grain production.

    But synthetic fertilizers have a dark side. Nitrogen that isn’t absorbed in the soil leaches into the water supply. It feeds the growth of algae, which can threaten aquatic life. Synthetic fertilizers emit nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. They’re made from a dwindling resource that’s not renewable: fossil fuels. On … » More …

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  • A closeup of John Browse working with plants Creating long-lasting, healthful food oils

    New soybean oils omit dangerous trans fats

    For more than a century, food manufacturers have preserved unstable food oils by converting them into shortenings and margarines through the Nobel Prize-winning process of partial hydrogenation. The problem is, the process also creates trans fats, which researchers and regulators have come to link with heart disease.

    With funding from the National Science Foundation, Washington State University molecular biochemist John Browse found a way to use modern breeding techniques to stop soybean plants from producing unstable fatty acids. Dupont and Monsanto are now developing “next-generation” soybeans whose oils can have a long shelf life but not contain dangerous … » More …

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  • A photo of two women looking at information on a computer Improving fruit cultivars online

    Database houses genomic, genetic, and breeding information to help tree fruit growers

    Washington, of course, is famous for its apples. Together with citrus, apples and related tree fruits comprise a $12.7 billion industry in the U.S. Staying ahead of diseases and pests, not to mention the search for the perfect combination of productivity and flavor, makes constant improvement a necessity.

    WSU researcher Doreen Main, along with a team of fellow horticulture scientists, has created an online database to help growers around the world address these challenges.

    The tree fruit Genome Database Resource is the world’s first central repository for citrus genomics and genetics … » More …

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  • A photo of a man inspecting a plant's leaves with a student Fueling the future

    Drought-tolerant plants could supply fuel in the wake of climate change

    Why do some plants tolerate drought better than others? The answer could help ensure adequate supplies of food and fuel as climate change pushes weather to extremes.

    In the School of Biological Sciences, plant biologist Asaph Cousins probes the complex relationship between plants and climate. By monitoring plants’ responses to drought, he amasses enough data to predict how plants will withstand future shifts in climatic conditions. This allows him to identify traits and pathways for improving plant productivity and drought resistance, particularly in bioenergy grasses.

    Dr. Cousins is part of a nationwide team … » More …

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