MADISON, Wis., July 7--The U.S. Department of Agriculture broke ground here today for a new laboratory where federal researchers will work to improve barley and oats. The laboratory will be operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's chief scientific research agency.
"This facility will provide much-needed work space for Agricultural Research Service scientists who provide a critical link between barley growers and breeders and the malting and brewing industries," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling, who participated in today's ceremony. "The new lab will be important because it is the country's only public research facility that evaluates malting barley cultivars based on their quality and usefulness."
Barley malt, which contains natural sugars, can be found in a wide range of foods, including breakfast cereals, beverages and bakery goods. It is the basic, fermentable ingredient in beer.
In 2004, ARS scientists at Madison assessed more than 5,000 different malting barley breeding lines, providing data that will help breeders develop high-quality cultivars for U.S. farmers. ARS research at Madison is also focused on finding new ways to bolster crop plants against attack from persistent and costly fungal diseases, like Fusarium head blight on barley and blast on rice.
The ARS scientists are also studying the unique, health-promoting compounds found in oats, which they hope to someday enhance to make the hearty grain an even more significant heart-healthy food.
ARS scientists in the Cereal Crops Research Unit share an outdated 1948 laboratory. The new facility will have more than twice the square footage of the current one, and will house about 50 employees, including seven full-time research scientists. Estimated to cost $11.3 million, the new building is due to be finished in July 2006.