Missouri State University researchers seek a better black walnut tree

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The black walnut harvest in the Ozarks is happening now.

But Missouri State University students are doing much more than just harvesting them. They are investigating how to breed better black walnut trees.

We all see black walnut trees all over the Ozarks, and you can identify them this time of year by the nuts that have fallen to the ground. But the yield can be very unpredictable.

At MSU, a research team is taking a closer look at the nuts, leaves and every aspect of the trees. They're trying to breed a better walnut tree with a more consistent yield that is disease-resistant, has a thinnner shell and a large kernel. They're using DNA technology to identify the varieties of trees that have the best qualities and are creating a hybrid, known as Football cross Sparrow.

The research team has planted some of those hybrid black walnut trees on the MSU Mountain Grove campus. They're working closely with the MU Southwest Research Center as well as Hammons Black Walnuts in Stockton, Mo., the largest producer of black walnut products in the U.S.

"It's just really cool to know that what I'm doing here in the lab and what I'm doing out in the field, just gathering walnuts or just looking in a microscope for hours," said Sadie Land, MSU graduate student. "It's just cool to know that this could help other people and improve varieties."

Someday, the research could lead to orchards of better producing black walnut trees. The research is funded by a two-year grant worth almost $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.