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In 1986, farmer Eric Anderson and Bob Buchanan, then director of the state Department of Agriculture, accepted a major challenge from Oregon wheat growers: to lead a campaign to raise funds for an endowed chair dedicated to wheat research at OSU. Its mission: to keep Oregon's wheat industry profitable by developing new varieties of wheat and researching other significant issues of concern to the industry.
Thanks to widespread and generous response from individual wheat growers, agribusiness, the Oregon Wheat Commission, and other associations, the target goal was reached in less than a year. The Wheat Research Chair was the first position at OSU endowed by gifts from many people and organizations, and the first endowed chair in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
There was little doubt about who would become the chair's first holder. Warren Kronstad, a world-class scientist and teacher was already a member of the OSU faculty, and had been since 1959. After receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees from Washington State University, Professor Kronstad came to OSU, where he earned a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics. After joining the faculty, he worked on projects in many countries, including a multi-year research effort in Turkey that resulted in dramatic increases in wheat production there.
Despite Professor Kronstad's strong commitment to international agriculture, he never forgot the wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest. Today, cultivars he and his colleagues developed occupy approximately 85 percent of wheat acreage in the region. He developed the Stephens cultivar, which comprises about three-fourths of all wheat grown in Oregon and is also a major crop in Washington and Idaho.
Upon Professor Kronstad's retirement in December 1998, the Wheat Research Chair was renamed in his honor. He passed away in May 2000.
In 2011 Robert Zemetra, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at the University of Idaho, was hired as the new holder of the Kronstad Wheat Research Endowed Chair. He works with other OSU scientists to develop wheat germplasm and release new varieties with higher yields, better disease resistance, and improved end-use properties. He also serves as the primary ambassador between OSU and wheat industry leaders, including commissions, grower organizations, seed dealers, and private breeding and biotechnology companies.
In his 26 years at the University of Idaho Zemetra earned a reputation for breeding high-quality soft white winter wheat, the most popular kind of wheat grown in Oregon. He developed Brundage and Brundage 96, varieties that led to expanded domestic and international markets for Idaho wheat growers. Zemetra holds a doctoral degree in agronomy from Colorado State University.