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
University of Tennessee trials overview (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

February 19, 2017

2016 University of Tennessee Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, TN.

Read More
Reiman Gardens field trials

February 18, 2017

2016 Iowa State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames, IA.

Read More
2016 Top 100 Growers List

February 18, 2017

Top 100 Growers Survey for 2017 Is Now Open!

Operations with more than 400,000 square feet of environmentally controlled production are eligible to take the survey, which only takes a few minutes to complete.

Read More

February 17, 2017

How to Keep Customers Coming Back With Top-Notch Servic…

A recent article on Forbes.com outlines seven ways organizations can take their customer service from good to great and beyond.

Read More
Summerwinds Proven Winners display FEATURE

February 17, 2017

Proven Winners Makes Improvements to Its Retailer Certi…

Understanding the challenges of training new and seasonal staff at independent garden centers, Proven Winners says it is working to equip managers with tools to prepare their employees to better handle customers’ questions and boost their confidence in selling plants this season.

Read More
Tom Foley, WaterPulse

February 17, 2017

Industry Veteran Tom Foley Discusses His New Role as Vi…

Foley, a greenhouse industry veteran who was most recently with EuroAmerican Propagators, will be responsible for North American sales of WaterPulse’s patent-pending capillary mats and associated irrigation systems to nurseries and growers.

Read More
Dan and Jerrys Greenhouse 1

February 17, 2017

Dan and Jerry’s Greenhouse Buys Iowa-Based DeJong Green…

The acquisition will allow Dan and Jerry’s, a bedding plant grower headquartered in Minnesota, to extend its seasonal product offerings and service a new customer base with local distribution.

Read More
Savor New Website

February 16, 2017

Pleasant View Launches Updated Website for its Savor Ed…

The site is designed to offer a friendly and informative vehicle that delivers product information in an easy-to-navigate format.

Read More
Syngenta Obsession Cascade

February 15, 2017

Syngenta Introduces Two New Flower Series for 2017

‘Sunfinity’ Sunflower produces multiple branches with numerous flowers that bloom all season long, while ‘Obsession Cascade’ Verbena quickly fills containers with vibrant flower patterns.

Read More

February 15, 2017

Growers Planning to Invest in Structures in 2017

Data from this year’s Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry survey indicates that growers are planning to make major investments in structures and facility upgrades this year.

Read More
NVAC Greenhouse prototype

February 15, 2017

New Greenhouse Cooling System in Development for Hot-Cl…

Researchers at McGill University in Quebec have developed an alternative evaporative cooling solution for greenhouses in warm climates, and are now seeking commercial partners.

Read More

February 15, 2017

Registration Open for NGMA Spring Meeting

The annual gathering of the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association will feature a look at green industry trends, emerging market opportunities, and more.

Read More
EuroAmerican Propagators Greenhouses

February 14, 2017

Suppliers Comment on Plant Genetics’ Fate After EuroAme…

Since the operation’s bankruptcy filing on January 23, 2017, suppliers associated with EuroAmerican Propagators have updated Greenhouse Grower on what the operation’s bankruptcy means for them – and how it will impact grower customers.

Read More
Bill Hoffman at Hoffman Nursery

February 14, 2017

Hoffman Nursery Has a New Head Grower

Bill Hall brings more than 30 years of experience to Hoffman. In the past, he has worked for Carolina Nurseries, AG 3, and ArborGen.

Read More
TPIE 2017 tradeshow floor

February 14, 2017

Trendsetting Products and Ideas From TPIE 2017

If you're a trend watcher, the 2017 Tropical Plant Exhibition, held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, on January 18-20, was a can't-miss event. In case you missed it, here are a few highlights of the cool products, trends, and ideas seen at the show.

Read More
Visser PC 16 Transplanter feature

February 13, 2017

How to Find a Greenhouse Transplanter for Every Grower&…

Equipment manufacturers have recognized a void in the market for machinery that appeals to growers of all sizes and budgets. Here are some affordable options to consider investing in to improve your operation’s efficiency.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

February 13, 2017

Your Voice Matters in Shaping Policy Important to Horti…

Anyone can voice an opinion, but not everyone will take the appropriate actions to communicate with lawmakers. Here’s what you need to do now.

Read More
Remote Sensing Feature

February 12, 2017

Using Remote Sensing to Optimize IPM in Greenhouses

Researchers at the University of California Davis are developing advanced remote sensing technologies to automate detection of insect pest infestations in greenhouses, which could revolutionize integrated pest management practices.

Read More