PULLMAN, Wash. — Warren E. Kronstad, considered one of the top cereal
breeders in the world, received Washington State University’s Alumni
Achievement Award March 27 at the Lewis Alumni Centre.
Before he retired in 1998, the Corvallis, Ore., resident spent 35 years at Oregon
State University as a distinguished professor in plant breeding and genetics.
Much of his research focused on developing new varieties of wheat, barley
Kronstad came to WSU from Bellingham and completed a bachelor’s degree in
agronomy in 1957 and a master’s degree in genetics in 1959. He stayed on at
the university for two years as a research assistant under pioneering USDA
wheat breeder Orville Vogel. That experience set Kronstad on a career course
devoted to helping alleviate world hunger.
He was an early innovator in the field of biometrical modeling to gain insight
into parental selection and genetic variation with segregated populations. This
contribution was cited as one of the major accomplishments in plant breeding
during the 20th century at the first international Plant Breeding Symposium at
Iowa State University in 1965.
Kronstad collaborated with OSU soil scientists to develop a greenhouse
nutrient screening technique to identify seedlings with tolerance to aluminum
toxicity. This proved to be a breakthrough in breeding wheat cultivars with a
tolerance to this soil problem. Later, the technique was used in identifying
aluminum tolerance in other crops.
He and his research team developed genetically superior cultivars, including
soft white winter wheats, two winter barleys and two winter oats. He also
developed a “shuttle breeding” method of progeny selection that evaluates
populations across an array of environmental conditions and international
sites, resulting in elective selection for both wide and specific adaptation.
Beginning in the 1960s, he was actively involved in international wheat
improvement activities, first in Turkey where he and other scientists
introduced 23,000 tons of six wheat cultivars from Mexico.
The wheat breeding project under his leadership at OSU generated grants in
excess of $15 million. As a tribute to Kronstad’s success, a $1 million Wheat
Research Endowed Chair has been established at OSU, funded by the Oregon
Wheat Producers and matched by the Oregon legislature.
In addition to his research, Kronstad taught undergraduate classes in
gytogenetics, plant breeding genetics and cereal production. He was major
professor for more than 100 graduate students from nearly 30 countries. Many
of them have gone on to become leaders in agriculture in the United States or
their home countries.