A good seed: UNH researcher breeding new varieties of crops

  • Milan, a hybrid variety developed by Seneca Vegetable Research utilizing a UNH inbred line, is a very productive cantaloupe variety with early maturity, great flavor, consistently high sugar content and resistance to fusarium wilt and powdery mildew disease. Courtesy of Holmes Seed Company

  • Owl’s Eye is now available as organically produced seed. Courtesy of High Mowing Organic Seeds

  • Loy’s breeding lines also are in two new white pumpkin introductions, including Blanco. Credit: Harris Seeds Courtesy—

Monitor staff
Published: 5/10/2018 10:28:46 PM

The names Smooth Operator, Naked Bear and Blonde Beauty may sound like song titles from the ’70s, but for University of New Hampshire plant genetics researcher Brent Loy, they are the affectionate names of his most recent work.

Loy has released these and more varieties of gourds and melons as part of the longest-running squash and pumpkin breeding program in North America.

Since 1968, Loy has been working out of UNH’s Agricultural Experiment Station to create new types of squash, melons, pumpkins and gourds that will increase variety in supermarkets and bolster the profits of small family farms.

“My wife farmed for 18 years, and her income wasn’t even close to enough to support a family,” Loy said. “For local growers, they need variety that supermarkets can’t provide. A butternut squash isn’t just a butternut squash. There are about 30 different varieties. How does a supermarket know whether a variety is good or not? They don’t.”

Loy hopes that family farms will be able to use his crossbred vegetables to make a better livelihood, and his new releases have been carefully engineered to do just that. It’s important to note these seeds were developed through years of cross-breeding of different plants – and not through genetic modification – to come up with a specific combination of favorable traits for growing in the northeast, including improved yields, as well as disease and pest resistance.

“Blanco,” a white pumpkin hybrid, is a new installment in Loy’s line of novelty-colored gourds that are mostly used for decoration. “Smooth Operator,” a new variety of summer squash, is bred with reduced spines in order to minimize the irritation of gardeners’ skin while tending to the plants. And “Milan,” a high-producing cantaloupe variety, boasts a consistently high sugar content and resistance to disease.

While helping local farmers improve their variety is definitely one of his goals, that’s not the only thing that’s kept Loy working at plant breeding for half a century.

“To be honest, I just like doing it,” he said. “Some of the breeding lines I’m using today took years and years to develop. But once you get the gene you want into the line, it becomes easier and easier to keep developing new ones. Hitting breakthroughs like that is what really keeps me going.”

Loy’s years of work in fine-tuning breeding lines have resulted in 70 varieties of squash, pumpkins, gourds and melons that are available in seed catalogs around the world. His newest varieties are now available at High Mowing Organic Seeds and Rupp Seeds.

And what about all those funky titles for the seeds, like Owl’s Eye, Moonshine, and Honey Sak? Loy says he’s just the researcher, the seed companies come up with the names.

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