Top 20 Cultivar or Genetic Lines

In 2017, the MAES was asked to provide a list of major research discoveries, areas of historical research expertise and top cultivars related to the research land-grant mission of the University of Minnesota for an upcoming book by former USDA Chief Scientist Gale Buchanan.

The list below, while not exhaustive, represents a compiling of major historical accomplishments collected by MAES staff with the help of countless University faculty and Departmental staff. 

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Honeycrisp Apple

Common Name: Honeycrisp Apple
Scientific Name: Malus Pumila ‘MN#1711’
Year Released: 1991
Breeder: James Luby and David Bedford
Description: The development of ‘Honeycrisp’ is recognized as one of the top 25 innovations of the decade by the 2006 Better World Report. Since ‘Honeycrisp’ trees were introduced in 1991, they have become the most widely planted apple tree in the United States and the apples often fetch prices two to three times higher than other varieties. Thanks in large part to its explosively crisp and juicy texture, it has been credited with single-handedly saving the apple industry in the northern Midwest. 

Minnesota Hygienic Honey Bee

Common Name: Minnesota Hygienic Honey Bee
Scientific Name: ‘Minnnesota’ Apis mellifera L.
Year Released: 2001
Breeder: Marla Spivak
Description: Minnesota Hygienic Honey Bees are bred specifically to resist certain brood diseases, such as American foulbrood and chalkbrood. The Minnesota Hygienic Honey Bee is also bred to groom itself and other bees within the hive to detect varroa mites and they possess the ability to detect varroa mites on or within the honeycomb cells. Minnesota Hygienic Queen bees are now sold nationally and beekeepers are beginning to breed selectively for hygienic behavior which will help create a genetically diverse population in the future.

Minnesota 13 Corn

Common Name: Minnesota 13 Corn
Scientific Name: Zea mays L ‘Minnesota 13’
Year Released: 1896 
Breeder: Willet Hays and Andrew Boss
Description: Only about 800,000 acres of corn were grown in Minnesota in 1893 when Willet Hays began work on ‘Minnesota 13,’ an early maturing but high yielding open pollinated variety released in 1896. Within twenty years, Minnesota acreage had doubled and by 1932 five million acres of corn were being grown in Minnesota. ‘Minnesota 13’ became the most popular early cultivar is the northern U.S. Corn Belt and moved corn growing 50 miles northward within a decade of its release. Today, researchers estimate its genes are in the background of 13 percent of current U.S hybrid corn. 

Minnesota No. 1 Swine

Common Name: Minnesota No. 1 Swine
Scientific Name: Sus scrofa domesticus ‘Minnesota No. 1’
Year Released: 1946
Breeder: Laurence Winters
Description: In 1946, Laurence Winters introduced Minnesota No. 1, a new breed of swine. Fertile, vigorous, with a long body, good ham, and a high yield of lean bacon, the Minnesota No. 1 made fast and economical gains and was widely used in crossbreeding for efficient pork production. Minnesota No. 2 and No. 3 followed and, ultimately, Winters’ work on improving swine was adopted throughout the country and beyond, providing leaner meat to consumers and saving Minnesota producers an estimated (in 1943 dollars) $3 million a year in feed.

Thatcher Wheat

Common Name: Thatcher Wheat
Scientific Name: Triticum aestivum L. ‘Thatcher’
Year Released: 1934
Breeder: H.K. Hayes
Description: ‘Thatcher,’ a spring wheat variety released in 1934, survived serious rust epidemics of 1935 and 1937. By 1941 it occupied 17 million acres in the U.S. and Canada and by 1951 it was still the principle wheat in North America. The genes of ‘Thatcher’ are in the pedigree of much of the wheat grown today.

Frontenac Wine Grape

Common Name: Frontenac Wine Grape
Scientific Name: Vitis riparia ‘Frontenac’
Year Released: 1996
Breeder: James Luby
Description: ‘Frontenac’ wine grape was the first truly hardy wine grape for northern climates. Its vigorous growth, excellent disease resistance, and extreme cold hardiness made it a standout variety early in the U of M grape breeding program. Its introduction in 1996 led to the development of the wine industry in Minnesota and beyond. ‘Frontenac’ was followed by six other cold-hardy grape varieties that have become the cornerstone of the wine industry in the Northern U.S. and Canada. In 2015, cold-hardy vineyards and wineries generated $80.3 million of economic activity in Minnesota, and over $400 million nationwide. 

Agate Alfalfa 

Common Name: Agate Alfalfa 
Scientific Name: Medicago sativa L. ‘Agate’
Year Released: 1973
Breeder: Donald Barnes
Description: During the early 1970s alfalfa breeding at the University was focused on developing varieties with resistance to Phytophthora root rot which limited alfalfa production in many wetter soils in Minnesota making resistant, cold-hardy varieties a priority of the breeding program. The first resistant variety, ‘Agate,’ was released in 1973 along with resistant germplasms that became the basis for several industry varieties. In addition, the screening and evaluation techniques used by U of M researchers during this period became standards across the industry.  

Linkert Wheat

Common Name: Linkert Wheat
Scientific Name: Triticum aestivum L. ‘Linkert’
Year Released: 2013
Breeder: James Anderson
Description: ‘Linkert’ wheat exhibited excellent straw strength and end-use quality when it was released in 2013. Since its release it has consistently been among the highest yielding and highest quality hard red spring wheat varieties currently available. In 2015, it was planted on an estimated 13 percent of Minnesota wheat average. Additionally, ‘Linkert’ has been tested to be resistant to the Ug99 family (TTKSK race) of African stem rust races in the adult stage making it an important variety to study for further disease resistance and breeding efforts.

Evans Soybean 

Common Name: Evans Soybean 
Scientific Name: Glycine max ‘Evans’
Year Released: 1974
Breeder: Jean W. Lambert 
Description: ‘Evans’ soybean was originally released in 1974 but remained a popular variety for decades. By 1984, soybeans occupied 2.32 million hectares in Minnesota with Northwestern Minnesota seeing particularly strong growth. In the mid-1990s, Evans occupied 57 percent of the soybean acres in north and west-central Minnesota. 

Purple Petrowski Wild Rice

Common Name: Purple Petrowski Wild Rice
Scientific Name: Zizania palustris L. ‘Purple Petrowski’ 
Year Released: 2000
Breeder: Raymond Porter
Description: Early wild rice breeding at the University focused on decreasing shattering, increasing disease resistance and making it suitable for patty production. With the introduction of ‘Purple Petrowski’ in 2000, researchers had breed a variety that yielded 16 percent more than the shatter resistant ‘Franklin’ (UMN 1992) and the first variety with some resistance to fungal brown spot disease, one of the most serious diseases in wild rice. 

UM-3 Soybean

Common Name: UM-3 Soybean
Scientific Name: Glycine max ‘UM-3’
Year Released: 1997
Breeder: James H. Orf
Description: Released in 1997, ‘UM-3’ soybean is used for natto production and its superior quality still makes it highly desired in the industry despite being more than 20 years old. The development of UM-3 helped to establish northwestern Minnesota as a premier natto growing region.

Morex Barley

Common Name: Morex Barley 
Scientific Name: Hordeum vulgare L. ‘Morex’
Year Released: 1978
Breeder: Donald Rasmusson
Description: ‘Morex’ barley is named for “more extract” that it provides to brewers. It was released in 1978, in part thanks to an industry grant from the American Malting Barley Association, and was the first Minnesota variety to be strongly preferred on a region-wide basis by maltsters and breweries. From 1980 to 1984 ‘Morex’ was grown on nearly twice as many acres as any other barley variety in the United States.

Park Kentucky Bluegrass

Common Name: Park Kentucky Bluegrass
Scientific Name: Poa pratensis L. ‘Park’
Year Released: 1957
Breeder: H. L. Thomas
Description: ‘Park’ Kentucky bluegrass was released to the Northern Minnesota Bluegrass Growers Association in 1957. To date, this is the major variety for seed production in northern Minnesota, occupying over 95% of the Kentucky bluegrass acreage. Originally selected for its seedling vigor, it becomes established sooner than most other Kentucky bluegrasses and is well adapted to the north-central region. Park became the basis for establishing the seed industry in northwestern Minnesota, which thrives to this day.

Minngopher Perennial Chrysanthemum

Common Name: Minngopher Perennial Chrysanthemum
Scientific Name: Chrysanthemum 'Minngopher'
Year Released: 1977
Breeder: Richard Widmer
Description: When the University’s chrysanthemum breeding program began in the 1920’s, researchers were focusing on breeding and selecting early flowering varieties, as no existing mum bloomed before Minnesota’s killing frosts. In 1977, the University received its first plant patent for ‘Minngopher,’ a dome-shaped variety (i.e. the famous “cushion” habit) with flowers almost completely covering the outside surface of each plant. Within a decade, the cushion type became the dominant chrysanthemum plant habit worldwide. 

Latham Raspberry

Common Name: Latham Raspberry
Scientific Name: Rubus idaeus 'Latham'
Year Released: 1920
Breeder: H.W. Anderson
Description: When work began on crossing raspberry varieties in 1908, the goal was to develop a cold hardy variety that could survive Minnesota winters above ground (thus saving commercial growers time and money in the fall). Minnesota No. 4, aka ‘Latham,’ quickly became the standout cross thanks not only to its cold-hardiness, but also its vigor and productiveness. ‘Latham’ propelled Minnesota to be the third ranked state in the U.S. in raspberry acreage by the 1940s with a crop value of over a million dollars annually. In addition, it became the number one raspberry grown in the Midwest and remains widely popular throughout the Northern U.S., Canada, and the cooler regions of Europe.

Northern Lights Azalea

Common Name: Northern Lights Azalea
Scientific Name: Rhododendron 'Northern Lights'
Year Released: 1978
Breeder: Harold Pellett (Developed by Albert G. Johnson)
Description: As the first introduction in the ‘Lights’ series, ‘Northern Lights’ was primarily chosen for its cold-hardiness and ability to survive Minnesota’s harsh winters without cover. Previously, azaleas were only hardy to -4 degrees Fahrenheit and were generally a pinkish-mauve color. With the introduction of ‘Northern Lights,’ U of M breeders introduced northern gardeners to a perennial plant that could withstand temperatures down to -45 degrees Fahrenheit, and while ‘Northern Lights’ featured pink blooms, future introductions in the ‘Lights Series’ included yellow, orange, white, purple and red varieties.

Krantz Potato

Common Name: Krantz Potato
Scientific Name: Solanum tuberosum ‘Krantz’ (Tested as MNTX5-8-1RU and MN9648)
Year Released: 1985
Breeder: F.I. Lauer
Description: The Minnesota Experiment Station was the first Midwest station to pioneer in potato breeding. When released in 1985, ‘Krantz’ potato was recognized as having outstanding culinary and processing qualities. In addition, its disease resistant traits—particularly its resistance to hollow heart, common scab, and late blight—have led to its continuous use a breeder stock in the U of M program. It was named in honor of Dr. F.A Krantz, the U’s first potato breeder. 

Grimm Alfalfa

Common Name: Grimm Alfalfa
Scientific Name: Medicago sativa L. ‘Grimm’
Year Released: 1910
Breeder: Willet Hays and Andrew Boss (Originally grown by Wendelin Grimm)
Description: When Wendelin Grimm and his family settled in Carver County in 1857 they brought with them an alfalfa seed from southwestern Germany. ‘Grimm’ alfalfa, as it became known, was not originally winter hardy for MN conditions, but Grimm saved the seeds from the plants that survived each winter and reseeded them. Eventually, word reached U of M’s Willet Hays and Andrew Boss about a winter hardy alfalfa being grown in Carver County. Hays and Boss gathered seed and tested them at the St. Paul experimental plots. After extensive testing it was officially released and distributed in 1910. ‘Grimm’ became the most popular alfalfa variety in the Northern United States and its development was a landmark for forage crops in North America. In the 21st century, ‘Grimm’ alfalfa is credited by the USDA as the source of all modern varieties of alfalfa grown on the more than twenty-five million acres of farmland in the U.S.

Era Wheat

Common Name: Era Wheat
Scientific Name: Triticum aestivum L. ‘Era’
Year Released: 1970
Breeder: Robert Heiner
Description: ‘Era’ wheat was the first semi-dwarf spring wheat released by a public institution in the spring wheat region. Semi-dwarfs are short and less likely to fall over before harvest and their growing energy is directed to the grain rather than the leaves and stem. ‘Era’ was the dominant variety in Minnesota until 1983, and, at one point, occupied over 70 percent of the acreage in Minnesota.

Minnesota 100 Sheep

Common Name: Minnesota 100 Sheep
Scientific Name: Ovis aries ‘Minnesota 100’
Year Released: 1941
Breeder: L.M. Winters
Description: The University’s sheep breeding program began in 1936 at the North Central Station in Grand Rapids. “Minnesota 100” was crossbred to fit the needs of northern Minnesota sheep farmers. They were described as alert, active and vigorous as well as being more productive than other lines. Breeds developed for southern Minnesota followed shortly.