Hybrid carrot seed was introduced to central Oregon fields in the mid-1970s and has since come to dominate the region’s agricultural economy. Central Oregon produces about 75 percent of the U.S. carrot seed supply, and 40 percent of the world’s carrot seed supply.
“If you’re eating a carrot, it’s likely the seed came from here,” says Carol Tollefson, director of Oregon State University’s Central Oregon Agricultural Research and Extension Center (COAREC).
To conserve water, scientists at COAREC helped growers transition from traditional overhead sprinklers to a system that delivers a trickle of water directly to plant roots.
It turns out, the switch has an upside. After four years of experiments, researchers report that this drip irrigation cut water use in half, increased seed yields by an average of 22 percent, and improved germination by up to 5 percent. Thanks in part to OSU’s research, about three-quarters of the more than 4,000 acres of carrot seed in central Oregon is now drip irrigated. Seeds produced with drip irrigation also fetch higher prices because quality and yield are more consistent than with sprinkler-irrigated seeds.