Richard Roseberg, a soil scientist with 26 years experience at Oregon State University, has been named director of OSU’s Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point.
The center, one of 12 OSU ag experiment stations statewide, is situated in one of the state’s more diverse agricultural regions, and Roseberg brings his own unusual research projects to the position as well.
The Rogue Valley region grows tree fruit, especially pears, plus multiple types of vegetables, melons, livestock, dairy, forage and other crops. The area’s vineyards have emerged as strong producers over the past decade, and the station has developed a busy small farms program to meet the needs of alternative and beginning producers.
The center, known as SOREC, has 34 faculty and staff and an annual budget of nearly $2 million. Roseberg worked at the station for the first 14 years of his OSU career, then spent 12 years at the ag station in Klamath Falls, 85 miles away but with a much higher elevation, colder winters and a shorter growing season.
Roseberg said one of his first tasks is to hire a viticulturist to work with the region’s wine grape growers. SOREC also has a position open for a plant pathologist to work on diseases in orchards, vineyards and post-harvest crops, he said.
The area’s wine industry has grown dramatically, Roseberg said. He was at SOREC in the late 1990s when the first vineyards were coming on. With the valley’s long, warm growing season, wine grapes seemed to hold potential if the demand kept pace, he said. That’s come to pass, and wine has proven to be a good fit because it provides high-value on the valley’s small acreages.
“The Rogue Valley is not large,” Roseberg said. “There will never be 100,000 acres of anything in the Rogue Valley. So what can you fit?”
In addition to his administrative role, Roseberg said he hopes to work with station staff on soil-related aspects of their research. He also plans to keep his hand in on a couple projects of his own.
Roseberg and other researchers have been working the past 10 years on Russian dandelion, which produces rubber in its roots. Natural rubber is a strategic material of interest to the military, Roseberg said, because synthetic rubber doesn’t hold up in modern aircraft tires. Outside Brazil, only five Southeast Asian countries, including China, produce natural rubber. “We don’t want to get into a situation where the supply is cut off,” Roseberg said.
Russian dandelion grows fairly well in the Klamath Falls area, he said, and researchers are working through the usual agronomic questions of how to fine tune production. Roseberg is working on the project in cooperation with counterparts at Ohio State University and in Canada.
“It’s promising, but like any new crop it takes time,” he said.
Roseberg also is interested in teff, an Ethiopian plant grown there for grain and seeds. Bread made from teff has no gluten, which is important to some consumers.
In its immature state, teff is high protein forage and some U.S. farmers are growing it for hay and as a rotational crop. It’s a warm season grass with good yields that does well in mid-summer but has no frost tolerance, he said. It grows better in the Medford area than in Klamath Falls, he said.
About 150,000 acres of teff is being grown in the U.S. now, Roseberg said, with two-thirds of that grown for hay. Oregon and Washington combined have about 10,000 acres of teff, he said.
Steve Norberg of Washington State University is working with Roseberg on the project.
Traditional crops remain a big part of research programs, Roseberg said, “But as a university, we’re also obliged to look at unusual things. Is there a fit?”