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ARS Sunflower Research Boosted by New State-of-the-Art Equipment

By Alfredo Flores
June 23, 2009

New, high-yielding sunflower germplasm that gives this important oilseed crop resistance to insects and two fungal pathogens could result from a research effort by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Fargo, N.D.

Researchers at the ARS Sunflower Research Unit (SRU) in Fargo, using state-of-the-art equipment, are seeking sunflowers that resist insects and Verticillium and Sclerotinia fungi. Non-oil sunflower seed production was 429 million pounds and valued at $124 million last year in the United States, while oil-type sunflower seed production was just under 3 billion pounds and valued at $545 million.

The SRU scientists, in collaboration with researchers from around the world, have discovered new sources of resistance to these yield-reducing pests. For example, SRU geneticist Brent Hulke has found, with the help of entomologist Larry Charlet and plant pathologist Tom Gulya, unique genes for resistance to downy mildew, rust, Sclerotinia diseases, and two insect pests, the red sunflower seed weevil (RSSW) and the banded sunflower moth (BSM). These genes form the basis for new and improved sunflower breeding lines.

Hulke has developed RSSW- and BSM-resistant germplasm and will test experimental hybrids from these later this year. Preliminary results will be available at the end of the year. This research is greatly facilitated by the efforts of the National Sunflower Association (NSA) and the $400,000-worth of new equipment the NSA donated to the SRU.

Hulke and Charlet are among the ARS speakers at the NSA Summer Seminar that starts today and runs through June 25 in Alexandria, Minn. NSA is a non-profit organization that works on problem solving and creating opportunities for growers and the sunflower support industry.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.