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Artist's rendering of the new Cereal Crops Research Laboratory.
Artist's rendering of the new Cereal Crops Research Laboratory.

Allen Budde examines malt partway through the kilning process. Link to photo information
The Cereal Crops Research Unit is the country’s only research facility that evaluates the malting quality of barley cultivars. Barley malt is used to make breakfast cereals, baked goods and beer. Here, plant physiologist Allen Budde examines malt partway through the kilning process.

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New USDA Cereal Crops Laboratory Dedicated

By Erin Peabody
April 5, 2007

MADISON, Wis., April 5—The U.S. Department of Agriculture today dedicated a state-of-the-art research laboratory where scientists will work to improve barley, oats and other cereal crops. The new facility will be operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

"This laboratory has been the country's only public research facility for evaluating malting barley cultivars based on their quality and usefulness," said ARS Associate Administrator Antoinette Betschart. "For nearly 75 years, it has provided an important link between barley growers, plant breeders and the malting and brewing industries. This new facility will further strengthen this function."

In fact, most of the malting barley cultivars that Americans encounter in foodstuffs or beverages have, at one time or another, been scrutinized by ARS cereal researchers in Madison. Barley malt, which contains natural sugars, can be found in a variety of foods, including breakfast cereals and bakery goods. It is the basic fermentable ingredient in beer.

The new Cereal Crops Research Unit (CCRU) building is located on more than three acres of federal land on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Built at a cost of $11 million, it will house 35 employees, including seven scientists and their staff.

In addition to Betschart, speakers at today's event included U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin; Steven Shafer, ARS Midwest Area director; Cynthia Henson, research leader, CCRU; Irwin Goldman, vice dean of the University of Wisconsin's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; and Michael Davis of the American Malting Barley Association.

In addition to the critical service that CCRU scientists provide barley breeders, ARS researchers in Madison are working to better understand the biochemical processes that control the conversion of starch into sugars, which is a crucial value-added trait for malting barleys. They're also focused on identifying health-promoting compounds found in oats and barley, and on better ways to bolster cereal crops against attack from persistent and costly fungal diseases, like Fusarium head blight on barley and blast on rice.

The new CCRU facility has double the square footage of the original laboratory, which was built in 1948. It will provide the ARS scientists with needed research and office space, including an up-to-date laboratory for fulfilling the unit's important function of evaluating malting barley.