Dr. Nnadozie Oraguzie, formerly a scientist with HortResearch pipfruit breeding program in New Zealand, joined Washington State University on May 1 as stone fruit breeder. WSU’s breeding program started out almost 60 years ago with Dr. Harold Fogel in charge. He was succeeded in 1960 by Dr. Tom Toyama. When Toyama retired in 1985, WSU terminated the breeding program because of budget constraints. However, material from Toyama’s crosses has continued to be evaluated since he left and several new varieties, including the Tomcot apricot and the Chelan, Selah, Benton, Tieton, and Cashmere cherries have been named and released.
The breeding program, based at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, was revived in 2005, with the support of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission, with a view to developing new stone fruit varieties and cherry rootstocks.
Dr. Jim Olmstead, manager of the cherry breeding program from 2006 until he left in 2007 to become a WSU Extension educator in Yakima, used Toyama’s material to make crosses that may have resistance to mildew.
WSU has also been collaborating with Michigan State University’s Dr. Amy Iezzoni to evaluate rootstocks that were part of MSU’s tart cherry breeding program for their potential for sweet cherry rootstocks.
Dr. Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said WSU’s appointment of Oraguzie to a permanent position as stone fruit breeder represents a long-term commitment on the part of the university to developing new stone fruit varieties, and strengthens the team it has put together to develop a world-class program in genetics and genomics of tree fruits.
Oraguzie earned a bachelor’s degree in botany at the University of Jos in Nigeria and taught school for a year before pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Ibadan, also in Nigeria. He earned a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics in 1997 from Lincoln University in Canterbury, New Zealand, and had been with HortResearch for ten years.