The USDA breeding program had determined that Chinese chestnut had the most blight resistance. However in the eastern forests, Chinese chestnut is not able to reach the overstory when competing with other native forest species. TACF was able to jumpstart its program by leveraging promising and known hybrids from the USDA and CAES programs. We also use Japanese chestnut, American chestnut showing some resistance, and we are now seeking out even more promising resistant Chinese chestnut, C. mollissima, C. henryii and C.seguinii from their original range.
In 1989 The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) established the Wagner Research Farm in Meadowview, VA, to start the backcrossing program developed by TACF founding scientists Charles Burnham, David French, and Philip Rutter. Plant pathologist Fred Hebard was persuaded to move to Meadowview to manage the research farm, where he immediately began testing the backcross method. By 1993, Hebard had produced thousands of healthy trees, including several highly blight-resistant seedlings, from two intercrossed generations. Hebard has been able to reduce the time it takes chestnut to flower from between 6 and 10 years to between 2 and 4 years, which has stepped up the pace of breeding for blight resistance. The rapid growth also helps speed up the ability to test for resistance, and we are now able to innoculate trees for intermediate resistance at 2-3 years and at high levels of resistance (intercross) at 1-2 years of age.
In 1995, the farm was filled to capacity with over 5,800 chestnut trees at various stages of backcrossing. A generous donation enabled purchase of land nearby, now known as the Glenn C. Price Research Farm. A third farm was purchased in 2002 and a fourth farm in 2006. Today, TACF’s Meadowview Research Farms have over 34,000 trees at various stages of breeding, planted on more than 150 acres of land.