Barley breeder

North Dakota State University barley geneticist Robert Brueggeman will be the new barley breeder at Washington State University, beginning in mid-August. Brueggeman grew up on a hobby farm near Spokane and got his Ph.D. at WSU.

Washington State University’s new barley breeder says that job has been his “dream position” ever since he got a Ph.D at the school in 2009.

Currently a barley geneticist at North Dakota State University, Robert Brueggeman will take over as WSU’s R.A. Nilan Endowed Chair in Barley Research and Education in mid-August.

Brueggeman worked in WSU’s barley molecular genetics lab under Andris Kleinhofs. He developed a barley genetics research lab at NDSU, where he has worked for nine years.

Brueggeman met his wife, Leah, at WSU. They have four sons, aged 8 to 14, who “can’t wait to move back to the Palouse.”

Brueggeman’s priorities are continued breeding efforts and advancement of current malting and food barley varieties now in development.

“The Nilan position and opportunities it presents are aligned with my experience, interests and ambitions as a barley geneticist and will provide me with a unique platform to continue working with the crop that I am passionate about for the barley producers and end users in Washington State,” Brueggeman said in an email to the Capital Press.

He replaces Kevin Murphy, who now leads the specialty crop breeding and agronomy program at WSU.

Brueggeman has worked with barley for 22 years.

“Not only does it have end uses that I enjoy but it is also an excellent model crop with exceptional genetic tools available,” he said.

This will allow for basic research from federal grants, he said, including from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

Available funding for barley breeding can be relatively small due to its small acreage, Brueggeman said. During his nine years at NDSU, he was involved with roughly $28 million in federal and state grants, including $4 million directly to his research program.

Washington barley farmers may have different needs than farmers in the Upper Midwest, but some traits are important no matter the location, Brueggeman said.

“I am actually beginning to cross WSU elite material with other high-quality malting lines in my own garden in Minnesota to jump start my breeding efforts at WSU,” he said, adding that adopting his molecular techniques to WSU’s breeding efforts should be “somewhat seamless.”

Brueggeman will communicate closely with farmers, stakeholders and legislators as he develops his program at WSU.

“I understand the importance of variety development in making barley production a profitable choice for growers, considering the yield and quality traits that will be needed by end users,” he said.

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