Plant Breeder Ockert Greyvenstein: Minimal Inputs Are A Future Breeding Requirement

Ockert Greyvenstein Ph.D. Candidate 2013, Plant Breeding Texas A&M University
Ockert Greyvenstein
Ph.D. Candidate 2013, Plant Breeding
Texas A&M University

This month, Ockert Greyvenstein will graduate with a Ph.D. in plant breeding from the Horticulture Department at Texas A&M University, where his research was focused on the genetics and selection of high temperature performance in garden roses.

Greyvenstein completed a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Biotechnology and a B.S. in Genetics from The University of Pretoria in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

In 2009, he completed a Master of Science (M.S.) in horticulture and a minor in plant breeding from Cornell University, where his research involved developing in vitro tools for use in plectranthus breeding programs.

GG: As a young breeder, what direction do you feel breeding is headed?
In terms of breeding for the floriculture market, I believe the focus is shifting toward breeding for adaptation to both abiotic and biotic factors similar to what we are seeing in the big food crops. The green industry is going to have to keep supplying “green” products requiring minimal input with acceptable appearances. Delivering on this will require some serious breeding efforts. Technology developed and implemented by the major food crops is likely to be implemented in floriculture crops to help with breeding progress.

GG: How will breeders address needs to reduce chemicals by increasing crop resistance to pests and diseases? How far away is this technology?
Greyvenstein: The technology is available. Look at what is being done with in major food crops. Leaving GMOs out of the conversation, the genotyping technology to aid breeders in making progress is amazing. How far private industry in floriculture has adapted some of these technologies I am not sure, but universities require funding to do the groundwork so industry can deploy the techniques available. There is no need for floriculture breeders to reinvent the wheel, which has been done by the Arabidopsis and maize scientists.

GG: What crops do you feel will be relevant and important over the next 30 years?
Greyvenstein: I feel that the major crops forming part of the annual bedding plants such as begonias, petunias, etc., will continue to be relevant over the next 30 years. I feel that we might see an increase in edible floriculture crops. With the major focus of feeding the increasing global populations, I would not be surprised to see an increase in edible landscapes. I also feel that hardy grasses will become more relevant.

GG: Will the fervor for all new varieties continue in the industry or will breeders begin to focus on filling consumers’ needs?
Greyvenstein: In my opinion the honeymoon period where the introduction of a new shade of color and or shape of an existing crop is sufficient for a new introduction is over. We might see a consolidation in the variation available in specific crops and have the focus shift more towards disease and abiotic stress tolerance.

GG: What is one outlandish prediction you have for floriculture in the next 30 years?
 I would not at all be surprised if GMO technology is accepted and implemented in floriculture crops in the next 30 years.

GG: How did you come to this industry and specialty?
Greyvenstein: Working with plants has always been a passion. My passion started to get more direction while working for three consecutive summers as a research assistant for Pannar Seed in South Africa on its sunflower breeding program during my undergraduate studies.

GG: How long have you been a breeder or studying to be a breeder?
Greyvenstein: My grandfather taught me about pollination before I went to school. Ever since then I have been making selections and crosses. Seeing seedlings flower for the first time is like opening up hundreds of Christmas presents. Apart from working on a commercial sunflower program, another source of direction came when I was about to head to the 8th grade and I got hold of my father’s copy of Heterosis by J. W. Gowen. My official training as a plant breeder started in December of 2002 and I have been working on my skills ever since then.

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