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

More From ...
Sheridan Nurseries

September 3, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The Year Sheridan Nurseries Raises The Bar

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further. “We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.” The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large. “We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we […]

Read More

September 3, 2015

Legalization Of Marijuana In California A Strong Possibility

The push for the legalization of recreational marijuana intensifies in California as proponents promote the crop’s agricultural and economical benefits.

Read More
More and more people are employing a landscape service, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still garden

September 2, 2015

Under Siege? Not Really, Just Go For A Walk

I have no trouble with people buying chocolates or wine instead of flowers to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays or peoples’ lives. We should all have choices. However, the other night I felt like I was entering the Republican caucus. I was minding my own business by the television set and became more than a little upset. A website called insteadofflowers.com came on the screen. It provided serene music and wholesome images of busy women doing busy things. It turns out that such busy women enjoy a small token of appreciation, but apparently their enjoyment, according to the voice-over, does not include flowers. This website delivers meals to the house, anything from beef brisket to beef bourguignon. It is a fine website with a good idea. But why pick on us? Why not use “insteadofbaloneysandwiches.com” or “insteadofgrilledcheeseandsoup.com,” “insteadofburgerdoodle.com,” or a dozen other things. When did flowers get to be the whipping boy? […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Sheridan Nurseries

September 3, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The …

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further. “We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.” The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large. “We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we […]

Read More

September 3, 2015

Legalization Of Marijuana In California A Strong Possib…

The push for the legalization of recreational marijuana intensifies in California as proponents promote the crop’s agricultural and economical benefits.

Read More
More and more people are employing a landscape service, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still garden

September 2, 2015

Under Siege? Not Really, Just Go For A Walk

I have no trouble with people buying chocolates or wine instead of flowers to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays or peoples’ lives. We should all have choices. However, the other night I felt like I was entering the Republican caucus. I was minding my own business by the television set and became more than a little upset. A website called insteadofflowers.com came on the screen. It provided serene music and wholesome images of busy women doing busy things. It turns out that such busy women enjoy a small token of appreciation, but apparently their enjoyment, according to the voice-over, does not include flowers. This website delivers meals to the house, anything from beef brisket to beef bourguignon. It is a fine website with a good idea. But why pick on us? Why not use “insteadofbaloneysandwiches.com” or “insteadofgrilledcheeseandsoup.com,” “insteadofburgerdoodle.com,” or a dozen other things. When did flowers get to be the whipping boy? […]

Read More
Triathlon BA container shot

September 2, 2015

OHP Launches Triathlon BA, Offers Marengo SC In Smaller…

Triathlon BA biofungicide/bactericide is now available to authorized OHP distributors for shipment to states where product registration has been approved. State registration information is available here. A next generation preventive biological fungicide, bactercide Triathlon BA is labeled for use in both organic and conventional production on a wide variety of fungal and bacterial diseases on ornamentals, fruits, vegetables and herbs and spices. With the active ingredient Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Triathlon BA provides preventive control of many foliar and soil-borne diseases such as botrytis, powdery mildew, downy mildew, rusts, leaf spots, alternaria, pythium, phytophthora, rhizoctonia, fusarium and bacterial spot. Triathlon BA, an aqueous suspension formulation, prevents establishment of disease-causing fungi and bacteria on the plant tissues. Depending on the target disease, users can foliar-apply or soil drench Triathlon BA. Repeat applications may be made at three- to 28-day intervals. Under environmental conditions that are conducive to disease development, users may apply at three- to […]

Read More

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

September 1, 2015

Perennial Plant Association’s 33rd Annual Symposi…

The Perennial Plant Association's 33rd Annual Symposium, held July 27 to August 1 in Baltimore, Md., delved into the rich history of perennial suppliers and landscape architects in the Baltimore area and their influence on the perennial market today and its bright future.

Read More
Marc van Iersel

September 1, 2015

GROwing Floriculture Research And Extension

Research and outreach efforts help keep floriculture production profitable. With seemingly continuous budget cuts to university and federal budgets, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to sustain their programs and to keep making a positive impact on the industry. So what can be done to ensure that the industry will keep getting the research and outreach support it has come to rely on? There already is a variety of funding programs that support research and Extension programs in our industry. This funding is critical for many floriculture research and outreach programs. What can we do to leverage that funding and make sure it has the biggest possible impact? A program that I was part of in 2010 may serve as a model. LAUNCH was co-founded by NASA, NIKE, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State as a program to help make innovative ideas become a […]

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of Th…

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler is laying a strong groundwork for the industry by mentoring future growers and instilling a sense of pride in growing quality crops.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Bell Nursery USA Cultivates New Growers Through Interns…

Bell Nursery USA started its internship program two years ago with the aim of identifying and training the growers of the future. Each season, the company’s internships give interns a broad overview of the company, exposing them to everything from growing and production to distribution, retail and finances.

Read More
Growing For Futures Logo

September 1, 2015

Growing Solutions Farm Gains New Native Plant Garden

Growing Solutions Farm, a Chicago-based vocational therapeutic garden for young adults with autism, is now the home of a pollinator-friendly native plant habitat. The raised-bed native plant display was added thanks to a donation from American Beauties Native Plants and Midwest Groundcovers, who partnered to donate 220 pollinator-friendly plants. It comes on the heels of a 2014 fundraiser hosted by the National Garden Bureau, which was able to donate more than $44,000 in cash, products and supplies to the farm by the end of 2014. “Last year, during the IGC Chicago Show, I took several guests over to Growing Solutions Farm,” says Diane Blazek of National Garden Bureau. “One of those guests, Peggy Anne Montgomery, was so inspired by this project that she and American Beauties Natives worked with Midwest Groundcovers to make this donation a reality. It’s so nice that the farm now has the plants they need to […]

Read More
Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation logo

September 1, 2015

Gloeckner Foundation Elects New Directors And Board Mem…

The Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation, Inc. held its annual meeting on May 30, 2015, electing a new president, vice president and one new board member. Newly elected officers, directors and board members are: Former vice president of the foundation, Dr. Richard Craig was elected president and chair of the research committee. Craig, a professor emeritus of plant breeding and the J. Franklin Styer Professor Emeritus of horticultural botany at Pennsylvania State University, is considered a pioneer breeder in the industry. In 1990, he was inducted into the Floriculture Hall of Fame, the industry’s highest honor. Craig has spent 45 years in genetics and breeding research, and has made countless contributions to horticultural science. Dr. Paul Allen Hammer, professor emeritus of floriculture at Purdue University, was elected vice president. Hammer has served on the Gloeckner Foundation board since 2001. His expertise in greenhouse production and management, experimental design and analysis and plant […]

Read More
Bill Lewis grower manager at Delray Plants

August 31, 2015

Delray Plants Takes Preventative Approach To Pest Contr…

Trying to control pests effectively on a wide variety of crops is a major undertaking. Delray Plants in Venus, Fla., has been using biological controls as a part of its pest control program for more than 10 years. It operates 300 acres, which includes covered structures and 7 acres of outdoor field production.

Read More
Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation logo

August 31, 2015

Gloeckner Foundation Awards 15 Research Grants

The Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation recently awarded 15 grants totaling $149,776. Fred C. Gloeckner had a keen interest and firm resolve to facilitate innovation and improve practices in floriculture. It was this vision that inspired him to start The Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation, Inc. 55 years ago. Since the foundation’s inception, more than 66 institutions have been awarded grants for this purpose, and the foundation’s support of floriculture research has totaled $6,525,642. The following grants were recently awarded: $14,000 – Kansas State University, to study the effect of the entomopathogenic fungus, Beauveria bassiana and the rove beetle, Dalotia coriaria, in suppressing populations of the western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis $12,264 – North Carolina State University, for expanding leaf tissue nutritional standards in bedding plants $12,000 – University of Florida, to illuminate Lilium floral fragrance $11,842 – Stephen F. Austin State University, for its herbaceous perennial species trial garden $10,000 – Iowa […]

Read More
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

August 27, 2015

The Perennial Plant Association’s Regional Sympos…

The Perennial Plant Association plans to hold its Regional Symposium October 5 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the All-America Selections/Home Garden Seed Association's Summer/Fall Summit held October 5 to 8.

Read More
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Figure 1. Mustard microgreens grown under sole-source (SS) lighting using light-emitting diode (LED) arrays.

August 21, 2015

Sole-Source LED Lighting In Horticulture: Microgreens P…

In Part 2 of a four-part lighting series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers examine the effects of sole-source LED lighting on microgreen production to achieve the highest quality crop possible in an energy efficient manner.

Read More
Farwest2015

August 20, 2015

Farwest 2015 Offers Tours And Showcases Vegetables, Fru…

Three 2015 Farwest offsite tours, planned for Wednesday, August 26, offer a range of focus for the industry from nursery/greenhouse growing to landscape and garden retail.

Read More