Current BI Species

We have our sights on growth.

Since Breeding Insight’s inception in 2019, we have been supporting six ARS breeding programs: alfalfa, blueberry, table grape, sweet potato, rainbow trout and North American Atlantic salmon. All species and programs included in Breeding Insight are nominated and approved by the USDA-ARS Office of National Programs.

Types of Species


Alfalfa is the third most widely produced crop in the U.S. with an annual direct value of approximately $9 billion. It is primarily used as feed for dairy and beef cattle, due to high protein and energy content, which makes the nutritional and digestibility aspects of alfalfa as a dairy forage a major focus for research. Alfalfa is also a major nectar source for honeybees and an average acre of alfalfa fixes about 300 lbs of nitrogen per year, eliminating the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to the subsequent crop. Alfalfa also has a deep taproot, making it productive during drought periods.

Current ARS afalfa programs are focused on developing drought-, grazing-, and saline-tolerant alfalfa lines for the Western states; improving digestibility by ruminants; altering root architecture; improving nutrient utilization; and identifying genes/DNA markers to define the basis of disease resistance and abiotic stress tolerance.

Because of its importance to U.S. agriculture, the USDA Agricultural Research Service has six laboratories that work on understanding and improving alfalfa production. Debby Samac at the USDA-ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minnesota and Heathcliff Riday at the USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin use genomics and molecular breeding to develop new germplasm with improved production and performance traits.


Pacific northwest Blueberry breeding is based at the USDA-ARS Horticultural Crops Research Unit in Corvallis, Oregon.  It runs breeding programs in blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry, red raspberry, and strawberry.  The program’s goals are to develop cultivars adapted 1st to the Pacific Northwest but ideally worldwide. The primary focus is on machine-harvestable cultivars suited to processing (e.g. frozen, dried, pureed, and juiced).  In addition to cultivar development, the program strives to collect, evaluate and, as appropriate, incorporate wild germplasm into his breeding material.  Finally, the program is involved in several projects that are trying to assess how new, genomic tools might be successfully incorporated into the program through collaborators.

Table Grape

The table and raisin grape breeding program at USDA-ARS Crop Diseases, Pests and Genetics Research Unit in Parlier, California, has been developing high-quality grape cultivars since the 1920s. Industry favorites like “Flame Seedless”, “Scarlet Royal”, and “Summer Royal” are just a few of the more than 30 cultivars that have been released by the program and are grown throughout the world. Rachel Naegele is the ARS Research Horticulturist focusing on grape breeding for durable pest resistance. Lance Cadle-Davidson’s grape research at USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit in Geneva, New York is focused on incorporating powdery mildew resistance into commercial-quality cultivars. Both USDA-ARS grape breeding programs use mapping and marker-assisted selection and collaborate with the USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository Research Unit in Davis, California, and the USDA-ARS Horticultural Crops Research Unit in Corvallis, Oregon, on a systems approach to grape and wine production.

Sweet Potato

Phillip Wadl is based at the USDA-ARS US Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina. He leads the sweetpotato breeding program, which has a primary emphasis on developing pest-resistant (insect and nematode) and weed-tolerant germplasm. Specific objectives are to: identify, develop, and release useful sweetpotato germplasm with resistance to soil insect pests, nematodes, or tolerance to weeds; and develop genetic/phenomic tools to facilitate the systematic improvement of sweet potatoes. Basic and applied research approaches are used to identify sources of tolerance, resistance, or improved quality, to determine the genetics and nature of the respective traits, and to develop efficient breeding approaches for incorporating the traits into horticulturally-acceptable germplasm. Molecular breeding techniques are used to complement conventional plant breeding approaches when applicable for more in-depth genetic study of tolerance, resistance, or quality factors and for more efficient incorporation of such factors into improved germplasm.

Salmonids (Rainbow Trout and North American Atlantic Salmon)

Rainbow trout is one of the most widely cultured finfish, with production on every continent except Antarctica. They are cultured in both marine and freshwater environments for production as food fish or in support of recreational fisheries. The United States is a major producer and exporter of rainbow trout germplasm. Most of food fish production is in Idaho; other leading states include California, Washington, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The largest breeding company and exporter of eyed eggs is located in Washington state.

ARS conducts research on rainbow trout genetics at two locations that maintain three broodstock populations. The USDA- ARS National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture in Leetown, West Virginia, uses genomic selection to improve rainbow trout health and production efficiency in the laboratory of Yniv Palti. Research at the USDA-ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit in Hagerman, Idaho, selects rainbow trout for growth performance on alternative plant diets. Research encompasses selective breeding, development of genome-enabled breeding strategies and optimization of chromosome-set manipulation techniques. Research on other salmonids includes a breeding program for Atlantic salmon. Fish are distributed to allied stakeholder organizations and/or industry partners through Material Transfer Agreements or Material Transfer Research Agreements.

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