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MO research breeds commercial chestnut future

MO research breeds commercial chestnut future

By Blake Jackson

A University of Missouri research initiative is laying the groundwork for a robust commercial chestnut industry in the state. The project capitalizes on Missouri's ideal climate and soil conditions to cultivate chestnuts as a significant regional crop.

Traditionally, U.S. chestnut cultivation has relied on over a century of on-farm selection and sharing of seedlings with promising characteristics. While this practice fosters substantial genetic diversity, it presents challenges in predicting individual tree traits.

To address this variability and propel commercial viability, researchers are implementing a breeding program named the Chestnut Improvement Network. This initiative leverages the collaboration of chestnut growers across Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Over 20,000 new seedlings are being monitored in on-farm environments, with data collected on factors such as early yield, bud break timing, and nut quality.

Through rigorous evaluation, researchers aim to identify superior chestnut selections. These elite trees will be propagated through grafting and subsequently tested in replicated trials. The goal is to establish reliable, high-yielding cultivars chosen for commercial production.

The shift from seedling-based orchards to clonal cultivars offers significant advantages for commercial growers, including improved consistency, increased frost tolerance, and enhanced production stability. However, the research team acknowledges the importance of maintaining some seedling orchards to safeguard the valuable genetic diversity fostered by the traditional approach.

Extensive outreach efforts will be crucial to educate growers on the benefits of adopting clonal cultivars while strategically integrating these advancements with the existing seedling-based practices. This collaborative approach holds promise for establishing a thriving commercial chestnut industry within the region.

Photo Credit: university-of-missouri

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Categories: Missouri, Crops, Education

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