Cultivating New Breeders

The science of plant breeding – especially breeding for the business world – is a dying art, and demands are high throughout the commercial agriculture industry for these highly skilled scientists. When one major seed company approached researchers at the University of California, Davis, about the lack of plant breeders who are sufficiently trained for variety production in a commercial setting, they decided to investigate further. After canvassing a number of seed breeding companies large and small from sectors across the agriculture industry, Allen Van Deynze and Kent Bradford at UC Davis confirmed that there was a great need for plant breeders and, with support from the university, began to collaborate with the industry to fix the problem.

“There are not enough students going into plant breeding from academia and part of that is because there aren’t many breeders left in academia,” says Van Deynze. “It is due to a lack in both interest and funding, but people are now realizing that it is really important. Seed companies are also telling us that the breeders coming out of academia right now are not trained for private breeding. Whereas the focus of an academic breeding program is oriented toward research and publication, the opposite is true in the private sector, where producing varieties efficiently that are better than your competitors’ is the focus.”

Thus was born the Plant Breeding Academy, a self-contained structure funded by student tuition and modeled after a professional MBA program. Designed for professionals already employed within seed companies, the goal is to train breeders who are equipped to develop commercial varieties. Seed companies identify employees as potential candidates for this on-the-job training.

“The Academy is designed for professional people and it will allow them to advance within their companies from breeding support to actual breeders,” says Van Deynze. “Companies are not willing to send people off their jobs for two to five years for a Masters degree or PhD with probably less than 50 percent chance that they’ll come back to that company. But they’re willing to support on-the-job training, like we have created at the Academy.” 

Best And Brightest

The Academy started its inaugural class in September 2006 with 15 students, pared down from 50 who applied. One of the goals, says Van Deynze, was to make the Academy very interactive and dynamic, with scheduled field trips, labs, lectures and discussions, so student numbers were limited. Each class of students will be required to attend six full weeks of class over two years, which breaks down to three six-day classes each year. Curricula is intersessional, so students can’t skip weeks, and they are assigned homework between weeks. A final comprehensive project brings the program full circle, and upon completion of the course work, students receive a UC Davis-accredited certificate that ranks somewhere between a masters’ degree and PhD, Van Deynze says.

“It will depend on the institution what level these courses will be recognized for a specific degree, but certainly at UC Davis, students would be given credits for completing the material,” he says. “It is a course at UC Davis, so the students will receive transcripts.”

Courses are taught by Dr. Larry Teuber and Dr. Doug Shaw, both from UC Davis, and Dr. Todd Wehner from North Carolina State University, each well-respected plant breeders within academia. In addition, the Academy brings in speakers from the industry and academia each week on specific topics to offer different points of view and keep things interesting.

Van Deynze says thanks to strong support from the University of California, Davis, the researchers were able to contribute to the Academy. But developing the curriculum for this courseload is extremely different from writing a syllabus for Plant Breeding 101, Van Deynze says.

“We had strong buy-in from our Dean and from the chair of the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and it wouldn’t have happened otherwise, because they had to approve the professors’ time to do this,” Van Deynze says. “The three professors are very dedicated–we essentially took everything we knew about plant breeding and rewrote the curricula into a very integrated application.”

Van Deynze and Bradford, the two main organizers who conceived the Plant Breeding Academy, work together with the professors on curricula. Catherine Glaeser, the Academy’s program representative, is a very strong contributor, as well, working to organize the Academy’s events, speakers and students.

Educating Breeders Worldwide

While there aren’t currently any students in the Academy representing the floriculture sector, that doesn’t mean there can’t be in the future, Van Deynze says. Plant breeding as a science includes the same principles across all crops, he says, and there are students in the Academy from the sugar beet, strawberry, tomato, corn and rice sectors of agriculture, among others.

“We try to use as many different crops as we can,” says Van Deynze. “The theory and basics of breeding and genetics are very similar – the idea is to come out of this course and be able to apply them to any crop, whether it’s ornamental trees, pineapples or corn.”

Van Deynze says he would not be surprised if other academic institutions began offering different versions of the Plant Breeding Academy, because of the great need for plant breeders worldwide.

“We have already had several institutions ask us about it in different parts of the world,” he says. “There was interest, for example, from colleagues from Korea in starting an academy there. We could see one in South America and another in Europe to capture audiences in different parts of the world. There is always room for more and maybe from different angles.”

Leave a Reply

Latest Stories
Pollinator-friendly perennials are a big hit with eco-concious consumers

May 27, 2016

Which Pollinator Terms Appeal Most To Consumers?

A team from the University of Florida tested several promotional phrases, from the specific ("butterflies" and "bees") to more general.

Read More
Harvest Automation HV 100 Feature

May 27, 2016

Harvest Automation Robot Helps You Move Plants Without …

The Harvest Automation HV-100 robot units use lasers and sensors to handle some of the most labor-intensive tasks in the greenhouse.

Read More
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover…

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
IGC App For 2016 Shows

May 26, 2016

IGC Shows Release Free Apps To Help You Plan For Both T…

Free event planning apps for each show are now available for download in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

Read More
SBI Rack Scanning feature

May 26, 2016

Take Your Data Management To The Next Level

New developments in software technology allow growers to customize inventory, tracking, and labor performance into systems unique to their greenhouse operations.

Read More
Eason 2017 Perennials Guide

May 25, 2016

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials G…

The two guides are available in digital and print versions and offer information from several breeders.

Read More
Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’

May 25, 2016

15 New Perennials For Bees, Butterflies, And Other Poll…

These 15 new perennials, available for retail in 2016 and 2017, will produce colorful flowers and foliage year after year, providing habitat and food for bees, butterflies, birds, moths, and other pollinators.

Read More
P.Allen Smith Cut Flowers

May 25, 2016

Sakata Seed America And P. Allen Smith Extend Partnersh…

Sakata is taking its partnership with plantsman P. Allen Smith a step further to create the P. Allen Smith Home Grown Cut Flowers Collection, a selection of premium cut flower seed hand-picked by Smith and bred exclusively by Sakata.

Read More
Triathlon BA container shot

May 24, 2016

OHP’s Triathlon Biofungicide Now Listed By The Organic …

Triathlon BA is a broad-spectrum preventative biofungicide that provides control of many foliar and soilborne diseases in ornamentals and herbs.

Read More
Costa Farms won International Grower of the Year. Representing the operation, (left to right) were Chuck Zala, Michael Vera, Menachem Ganon, Jose Costa, and Mike Rimland

May 24, 2016

AIPH Seeking Entries For Its International Grower of th…

The International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) is inviting ornamental growers from all around the world to enter the AIPH International Grower of the Year Awards (IGOTY) for 2017. Last year’s big winner was Florida-based Costa Farms.

Read More
Coleus Fancy Feathers Pink (Terra Nova Nurseries)

May 23, 2016

Take A Sneak Peek at Terra Nova Nurseries’ New Coleus F…

A brand-new collection of Terra Nova Nurseries coleus varieties called the Fancy Feathers Series is now available to growers for online orders. The series produces narrow, feather-like leaves and offers a mounded habit.

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [O…

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More

May 23, 2016

Ian Baldwin Sees Several Garden Trends Developing This …

The garden industry consultant reads the mid-spring tea leaves and sees several trends emerging.

Read More

May 23, 2016

Manhattan’s Urban Garden Center Suffers Second Di…

Two years after a nearby gas explosion destroyed the store in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem, Urban Garden Center had a four-alarm fire that disrupted a popular train route, and the garden retailer is now dealing with an angry community.

Read More
Aerial_view_of_the_Bayer_cross_high_res

May 23, 2016

Bayer Sells Consumer Garden Products Division To French…

The sale to SBM Développement comes just as Bayer AG makes a bid for Monsanto.

Read More
GG Tech Editorial Advisors Feature Image

May 23, 2016

Meet The New Editorial Advisors For Greenhouse Growe…

Greenhouse Grower TECHNOLOGY presents the inaugural members of its Editorial Advisory Board, six pillars of knowledge about greenhouse automation and technology. Get to know each of these gentlemen and what they’ll help bring to each issue.

Read More
Pythium On Chrysanthemum

May 20, 2016

How To Prevent Pythium In Fall Garden Mums

Avoid profit loss in fall garden mums due to pythium root rot with good drainage and integrated pest management practices that reduce risk factors.

Read More
Agro-K

May 19, 2016

Agro-K Expands Distribution In New England Through Part…

Agro-K, which manufactures conventional and organic foliar plant nutrients, will distribute its full line of foliar fertilizers and soil biological products through NEAG.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]