Posts in category Webinars

Plant Breeding

Plant Breeding at Public Institutions

The committee held a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, to gather information from invited speakers:
Click here to view the full webinar.

What is Plant Breeding?

For thousands of years, humans have been choosing the plants they like to eat and use. In doing so, we have changed plants in remarkable ways–physiologically, morphologically, reproductively, and chemically. Unlike their wild relatives, domesticated small grains like wheat and barley no longer shatter. Strawberries flower constantly and are larger. Carrots are tasty, orange, and uniform in shape, unlike their woody, gnarly, and white progenitors. These few examples illustrate how human preferences have driven genetic changes in domesticated plants. Humans have preferentially propagated plants with the most desirable characteristics in the field or saved their seed. With improved comprehension of life cycles and heredity, we became better at recognizing which crop varieties were good parents and started cross-pollinating them to develop new ones. This process—intentionally identifying, hybridizing, selecting, and propagating plants with desirable traits and genes—is known as plant breeding.

Why did the committee hear about plant breeding?

Plant breeders are the scientists and researchers who develop new crop varieties used by farmers and other consumers. They and their supporting teams use diverse techniques and technologies to increase productivity, quality, and other traits of economically important plant species. For the past several decades, plant breeders have used genetic information (DNA) to help guide decisions about which parents to use, crosses to make, and offspring to select in the next generation. If a desirable trait or gene is lacking from naturally existing plant taxa or is exceptionally difficult to access, genetic engineering is a technology that sometimes enables the creation of genetic variation that may otherwise be difficult or impossible to generate using traditional plant-breeding practices.

The following slideshow provides a brief introduction to the topic.

Watch the Plant Breeding Webinar and hear what the speakers presented to the committee!

Jim Holland (00:05:05 mark) discussed how corn breeders in the public sector, those in universities and government agencies, have been involved in research and development of new varieties over the past several decades. View bio

Jim Holland is a USDA-ARS research geneticist and a professor in the Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University. Dr. Holland studies maize breeding and genetics, with emphasis on the study of genetic diversity in maize, its impact on quantitative traits, and its use for improving temperate corn. He was an associate and technical editor for Crop Science for nine years and is currently an associate editor for G3: Genes, Genomes, and Genetics. He received his B.A. from Johns Hopkins University, M.S. from University of Wisconsin, and Ph.D. from North Carolina State University.

Jane Dever (00:34:13 mark) discussed the nuances of identifying and using valuable crop traits in cotton breeding, from both commercial and public breeder perspectives. View bio

Jane Dever is a professor and cotton breeder at Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Lubbock. She has been Project Leader for the Cotton Improvement Program since September 2008. The focus of her research is the development of public cultivars and the screening of exotic collections for relevant native traits to be used in breeding cotton. She has been Principal Investigator for the project, “Development of Cultivars and IPM Systems for Organic Cotton Production,” funded by an integrative grant through the USDA National Institute of Food Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. She is also Technical Advisor to a development project with Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso, “Revenue through Cotton Livelihoods, Trade, and Equity,” funded by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Dr. Dever received a B.S. in textile engineering (1983), M.S. in crop science (1986) and Ph.D. in agronomy (1989), all from Texas Tech University. After completing her degree, she held the following career appointments: coordinator, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service AgriPartners program; Senior Research Scientist, BioTex; Textile Engineer, Plains Cotton Cooperative Association; and Head of Materials Evaluation, Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute at Texas Tech University. She was Bayer CropScience Global Cotton Breeding and Development Manager for 10 years prior to returning to Texas A&M. Dr. Dever is the Plains and Western chair of the National Cotton Variety Testing Committee and secretary of the CottonGEN database steering committee and of National Association of Plant Breeder’s communication committee. She served as Associate Editor for Cotton, Journal of Plant Registrations. She was appointed a scientific member of the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council in 2011 and has served on the Joint Cotton Breeding Policy Committee. Dr. Dever is a recipient of the 2007 Bayer CropScience Gold Laureate Award, 2012 Cotton Genetics Research Award, and 2012 “Golden Hoe” award presented by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative. She lives on a cotton, grain sorghum, soybean, and wheat farm northeast of Lubbock, Texas, where she grew up.

Irwin Goldman (01:03:25 mark) discussed the role of genetic diversity in crop breeding and the regulations that modern breeders encounter when developing new crop varieties. View bio

Irwin L. Goldman is a professor and the chair of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he has worked for 23 years. His expertise is in breeding and genetics of cross-pollinated vegetable crops, including carrot, onion, and table beet. He has developed and co-developed numerous inbred lines and open pollinated populations of these crops, many of which are in use in cultivars around the world. His program has over 70 active licenses for this germplasm. He has been active in training graduate and undergraduate students in plant breeding and horticulture. Dr. Goldman teaches two courses in plant breeding and plant genetics as well as a course on vegetable crops, a course in evolutionary biology, and a course in plants and human wellbeing. He is a co-founder of the Open Source Seed Initiative and was a faculty advisor to the founding members of the Student Organic Seed Symposium. Dr. Goldman served from 2004–2010 as an Associate Dean, Vice Dean, and Interim Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison. He is a fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science. He serves as a Technical Editor for the journal Crop Science and on the editorial board of Plant Breeding Reviews. He received a B.S. degree from the University of Illinois, an M.S. from North Carolina State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.

GE Disease Resistance


Genetically Engineered Disease Resistance in Crops


The committee held a webinar on Thursday, November 6 from 2-4pm Eastern to gather information from invited speakers on genetically engineered traits for disease resistance. The webinar featured:

Richard Sayre, Senior Research Scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Consortium. bio

Dr. Richard T. Sayre is currently a senior research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the New Mexico Consortium (NMC). Dr. Sayre’s research interests include: characterization of primary processes in photosynthesis, algal and plant biotechnology, and nutritional biofortification of crop plants. Dr. Sayre completed his undergraduate degree in biology at Humboldt State University and his PhD at the University of Iowa and did postdoctoral work at Harvard University. From 1986 to 2008, Dr. Sayre was a faculty member and later chairman of the Department of Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology at Ohio State University. Prior to coming to LANL/NMC, Dr. Sayre was the director (2008-2011) of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis. From 2005 to 2010, Dr. Sayre directed the BioCassava Plus Program funded by the Grand Challenges in Global Health Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The BioCassava Plus program focused on engineering cassava to provide complete nutrition for subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Sayre has also served as Principle Investigator and Director of the Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center, and he was the scientific director of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels from 2010 to 2013. He is currently the scientific director of the Realization of Algae’s Potential (REAP) algal biomass program managed by the DOE. Dr. Sayre has received several honors including: Distinguished Professor in the College of Biological Sciences, Ohio State University (2005-2008); honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa (2006); Fulbright Scholar at the Inst. Quimica, University Sao Paulo, Brazil (2007); selected by Nature as one of “Five Crop Researchers Who Could Change the World” (Nature 456: 563-569 [2008]); invited attendee at Google/Nature/O’Reilly SciFoo Camp for Innovators (2009); and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (2011). Dr. Sayre is an associate editor for Frontiers in Plant Sciences, founding editor of Algal Research, and co-organizer of the International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts.

Anton Haverkort, Researcher, Wageningen University and Research Center. bio

Dr. Anton J. Haverkort coordinates potato research projects at Plant Research International – Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands and is extra-ordinary professor of crop and soil science at the University of Pretoria (South Africa). After graduation with a degree in ecology (MSc, cum laude), he worked for many years for the International Potato Centre in Turkey, Rwanda, Peru, and Tunisia to improve potato production through agronomy, breeding, and crop protection. He obtained his PhD at University of Reading (UK) on mathematical modelling of the influence of temperature and solar radiation on potato development and growth in tropical highlands. At Wageningen University he presently coordinates research on the development of a cisgenic marker-free late blight potato. He also carries out research on data management (ontology) in the French fries supply chain and leads sustainable potato production projects in eight countries on four continents aimed at the efficient use of resources (land, water, energy) and value creation through trade and processing. He has published over 90 scientific papers, five books, and hundreds of conference papers, book chapters, columns, and articles for professional journals. He is chairman or member of various potato committees in the Netherlands dealing with seed certification and genetic modification and was secretary general of the European Association of Potato Research. He travels frequently for potato research and consultancy for the industry and (inter)national governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Ralph Scorza, Research Horticulturist, USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station. bio

Ralph Scorza is a research horticulturist and lead scientist for the Genetic Improvement of Fruit Crops Research Unit at the USDA-ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia. He received his BS and MS degrees agronomy and plant physiology, respectively, from the University of Florida and received his PhD in plant genetics and breeding from Purdue University. The broad objectives of his research program at USDA are to develop stone fruits with improved fruit quality, disease resistance, improved adaptability to climate change, and tree growth habits suitable for high yielding, mechanically integrated orchard systems. His breeding program combines classical and molecular-breeding approaches. Dr. Scorza and colleagues developed the genetically engineered plum Pox virus resistant plum cultivar ‘HoneySweet’. This plum variety is approved for commercialization in the United States and is the only temperate fruit variety in the world to have received such an approval. ‘HoneySweet’ has been field tested in Europe for almost two decades, and Dr. Scorza leads an international team that is working to submit ‘HoneySweet’ for cultivation approval in the European Union. Dr. Scorza is the recipient of the Flemming Award for “Exceptionally creative and useful research and leadership in the area of stone fruit breeding and genetics” and an ARS Senior Research Scientist of the Year Award, and has been co-recipient of three Secretary of Agriculture Honor Awards. He is a recipient of the Foreign Agricultural Service Distinguished International Service Award and the National Peach Council Carroll R. Miller Award. He has released 12 stone fruit varieties, is the co-inventor of four biotech utility patents, has authored over 200 research publications, and is a Fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

Dennis Gonsalves, Director, USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (retired). bio

Dennis Gonsalves was born and raised on a sugar plantation in Kohala, Hawaii. He received his BS and MS degrees from University of Hawaii and his PhD in Plant Pathology in 1972 from University of California at Davis. He started his career at the University of Florida and joined Cornell University in 1977 and was appointed to one of the endowed Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor positions in 1995. Dr. Gonsalves led the research team that developed the transgenic papaya that saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from the papaya ringspot virus, for which they received the Alexander Von Humbolt Award in 2002 for the most significant agriculture accomplishment in the last five years. In 2002 he moved
to Hilo, Hawaii, to direct the USDA/ARS center and led the successful deregulation of the transgenic papaya in Japan in December 2011 and retired at the end of 2012. Prior to retiring, he started the effort by ARS and University of Hawaii to deregulate the Hawaiian transgenic papaya in China. He has extensive experiences in risk assessment and development of transgenic crops.

Presentations for each speaker start at the below timestamps:

  • Richard Sayre: 00:07:03
  • Anton Haverkort: 00:45:20
  • Ralph Scorza: 01:33:00
  • Dennis Gonsalves: 02:02:25

US Agricultural Extension


Perspectives on GE Crops from US Agricultural Extension


The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, October 22, from 2-4pm Eastern to gather information from invited speakers. The webinar featured:

Russel Higgins, Extension Educator, Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center, University of Illinois Extension. bio

Russ Higgins is a commercial agriculture educator at the Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center in DeKalb County. Mr. Higgins has applied research and outreach responsibilities for the commercial production and management of field crops (emphasis on corn and soybeans) in Northern Illinois. He collaborates closely with campus-based specialists and other faculty in the planning and implementation of research projects with local relevance to stakeholders. He cooperates with campus faculty in conducting pest surveys and the dissemination of these findings to clientele. Mr. Higgins holds a master of science degree from the University of Illinois in agronomy and a bachelor of science degree in agricultural sciences from Western Illinois University. His professional affiliations include the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, Illinois Extension Agricultural Association, and American Society of Agronomy. He is an American Society of Agronomy Certified Crop Advisor and a graduate of the Illinois Agricultural Leadership and the National Extension Leadership Programs.

Jeff Lannom, Weakley County Extension Director, University of Tennessee Extension. bio

Jeff Lannom grew up on a row-crop farm in Gibson County, Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Tennessee-Martin in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a concentration in agricultural business. He served as the 4-H agriculture agent in Weakley County for the University of Tennessee Extension before returning to UT-Martin for a master of science degree in education. Mr. Lannom transferred from 4-H to adult agriculture extension in 1994 and was appointed the Weakley County Extension Director in 1998. This year marks Mr. Lannom’s 25th year in UT Extension based in Weakley County. In 2014, Weakley County planted 67,000 acres of corn, 85,000 acres of soybeans, and 27,000 acres of wheat with minor acreage of cotton and grain sorghum. The county is annually ranked in the top 5 grain-producing counties in the state of Tennessee.

Diana Roberts, Regional Extension Specialist, Washington State University Extension. bio

Diana Roberts has worked as a regional agronomist for Washington State University Extension since 1991. Dr. Roberts plans, conducts, and evaluates a research- and experience-based educational program consistent with clientele needs and Extension policy in agricultural crop production, with the goal of increasing agricultural sustainability. She works primarily with large-scale grain farmers across the dryland region of eastern Washington. Soft white wheat is the principal crop in the area, and most of it is grown for export markets. Increasing numbers of growers in the region use no-till farming systems. She works closely with farmers on producer-initiated, on-farm testing projects of direct-seeding systems. Washington State also has a large number of organic producers. Dr. Roberts has worked on a number of integrated crop production system projects, including biological control of cereal leaf beetle, trials of cover crops in the region, and integrated pest management strategies for the wheat midge. Dr. Roberts earned a BS in agricultural genetics from the University of Natal (South Africa), an MS in agronomy at North Dakota State University, and a PhD in agronomy at Washington State University.

Dallas Peterson, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist, Kansas State University. bio

Dallas Peterson is a professor and extension weed specialist at Kansas State University. He grew up on a small diversified crop and livestock farm in north central Kansas and received his BS and MS degrees in agronomy from Kansas State University. Dr. Peterson completed his PhD degree at North Dakota State University and worked as an assistant professor and extension weed specialist in North Dakota from 1987 to 1989 before returning to Kansas State. Dr. Peterson conducts applied weed management research and provides educational programming and weed management information to Kansas farmers and crop advisors. Dr. Peterson has served as president and been recognized as a fellow of the North Central Weed Science Society. He has also has received the Outstanding Extension Award and is currently serving as President-Elect for the Weed Science Society of America.

Presentations for each speaker start at the below timestamps:

  • Russel Higgins: 00:06:15
  • Jeff Lannom: 00:36:08
  • Diana Roberts: 00:51:55
  • Dallas Peterson: 01:23:10

International Trade


International Trade and GE Crops


The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, October 8, from 2-4pm Eastern to gather information from invited speakers. The webinar featured:

Lee Ann Jackson, Counsellor, World Trade Organization. bio

Lee Ann Jackson is a counsellor in the Agriculture and Commodities Division at the World Trade Organization and Secretary to the Committee on Agriculture. At the WTO she has worked in a variety of areas including agricultural negotiations, implementation of the SPS Agreement, and dispute settlement activities. Prior to this position she served as a Research Fellow in the School of Economics at the University of Adelaide in South Australia where she conducted quantitative economic research on agricultural trade policy. She also worked for several years in the Environment Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute. She completed her Ph.D. in applied economics at the University of Minnesota and has a joint masters’ degree in public policy and environmental studies from Yale University.

Randal Giroux, Vice President – Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory, Cargill, Incorporated. bio

Randal Giroux currently holds the position of Vice President at Cargill Incorporated at the World Headquarters in Wayzata, Minnesota. Dr. Giroux leads the areas of Food Safety, Quality, and Regulatory with overall global responsibility in Cargill’s Agricultural Supply Chain businesses, specifically Cargill’s Grain and Oilseeds businesses, World Trading, Sugar, and Palm. He is involved professionally with both science and trade organizations across the supply chain and recognized for expertise in both Food Safety and the integration of Agricultural Biotechnology in global food and feed supply chains. He holds a number of leadership positions in the trade and has served on several advisory committees. Before joining Cargill, Dr. Giroux was a Program Manager with the Canadian Grain Commission and, prior to his public service, he was a National Needs Fellow with USDA. Dr. Giroux graduated with a PhD in Agriculture from the University of Guelph (OAC). With his background in the Life Sciences and extensive experience with Cargill’s global supply chain businesses, Dr. Giroux possesses unique skill sets that allow him to operate at a highly technical level and effectively identify and manage Food Safety, Quality, and Regulatory opportunities for Cargill’s agricultural businesses and stakeholders.

Lynn Clarkson, President, Clarkson Grain. bio

Lynn Clarkson serves as president of Clarkson Grain and managing director of Clarkson Soy Products. Founded in 1974 in Cerro Gordo, Illinois, Clarkson Grain contracts with farmers across Illinois, several other states, and a few foreign countries to produce selected grains and oilseeds. It selects hybrids, varieties, and production protocols to optimize farm income, processor yield, and market access. It supplies crops throughout the year to clients in North and South America, Asia, and the EU. It offers products cleaned, sized, raw, or processed, identity preserved as to hybrid/variety/characteristics, and traceable back to the supplying farm for organic, non GMO, and conventional markets. The company owns and operates elevators, commercial preparation facilities for corn and soybeans, several commercial storage facilities, and a barge station on the Illinois River. It receives by truck and rail and ships by truck, rail, barge, and ocean vessel.

Presentations for each speaker start at the below timestamps:

  • Lee Ann Jackson: 00:05:45
  • Lynn Clarkson: 00:53:03
  • Randal Giroux: 01:35: 33

US Agricultural Extension


Perspectives on GE Crops from US Agricultural Extension


The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, October 1, from 2-4pm Eastern to gather information from invited speakers. The webinar featured:

Dominic Reisig, Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, North Carolina Cooperative Extension. bio

Dominic Reisig has been an assistant professor in the North Carolina State University Department of Entomology since 2009, serving with an extension/research split. He is assigned extension responsibilities for insect pests of field crops throughout the state. Most of the field crop acreage is located in the eastern part of the state, and Dr. Reisig is housed two hours east of campus at the Vernon James Research and Extension Center. He keeps growers in other parts of the state informed through face-to-face meetings and a large web presence, focused on blogging and social media platforms such as Twitter. His research program is focused on the biology and ecology of Heliothines, especially in relation to Bt crops. Piercing sucking insect pests (i.e., stink bugs, thrips, and kudzu bug) have become an increased problem in the reduced-spray environment created by Bt. Other areas of his research program are focused on the distribution, movement, ecology, and management of these piercing sucking insect pests in farmscapes.

Mohamed Khan, Professor & Extension Sugarbeet Specialist, North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota. bio

Dr. Mohamed Khan is the Extension Sugarbeet Specialist for North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota. He is responsible for developing, conducting, and evaluating educational programs that will improve sugarbeet production practices in North Dakota and Minnesota. Dr. Khan research is aimed at improving management of diseases such as Cercospora leaf spot, Rhizoctonia crown and root rot, Rhizomania and Fusarium yellows, and agronomic practices such as optimum plant populations and nitrogen management. Dr. Khan is the secretary of the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board of Minnesota and North Dakota (SBREB). The SBREB is responsible for funding and promoting research and educational programs in sugarbeet production. Dr. Khan is also the Chairman of the International Sugarbeet Institute which organizes an annual 2-day trade show. About 3,000 growers and allied industry personnel participate in the exposition that involves over 120 exhibitors who showcase more than $3 million worth of machinery and equipment involved in sugarbeet production. Dr. Khan received his BS from the University of Guyana, MS from the University of Bath, UK, and his PhD from Clemson University. He is also experienced in managing tropical crops including coconut, oil palm and sugar cane.

Rick Kersbergen, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension. bio

Rick Kersbergen has been active in conducting research and Extension activities related to sustainable dairy and forage systems in Maine since 1987. He is currently an Extension Professor with the University of Maine and a Certified Crop Adviser through the American Society of Agronomy. Rick conducts educational programing and research on a wide variety of topics, including organic dairy production, no-till corn silage production, cover crops, and organic grain production. Rick received a Trustee Professorship from the University of Maine in 2005 and has been the PI or co-PI on numerous research grants to the University of Maine, University of Vermont, and University of New Hampshire. He has recently worked on several projects including a project from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture entitled “Assisting Organic Dairy Producers to Meet the Demands of New and Emerging Milk Markets” and a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) project on “Reducing Fuel and Fertilizer in Corn Silage Using No-till and Cover Crops.” Rick works with numerous commodity organizations including the Maine Grass Farmers Network, Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Organic Milk Producers, Northeast Pasture Consortium, Maine Sustainable Ag. Society, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Ben Beale, Extension Educator-Agricultural Sciences, University of Maryland Extension. bio

Ben Beale currently serves as the Extension Educator for Agricultural Sciences with the University of Maryland Extension office in St. Mary’s County. His main programming efforts include assisting growers with vegetable and small fruit production, grain and tobacco production, and alternative crop development. Most recently, he has been involved in the establishment of a local produce auction, transition from MD type to Burley type tobacco production, and establishing a USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer program in Maryland. His current research projects include grape variety evaluation trials, blueberry cultivar evaluation trials, and investigation of soybean vein necrosis virus. Beale holds a BS degree in Agricultural Sciences; a MS degree in Management and Marketing and is a Certified Crop Advisor. Beale grew up on a tobacco and vegetable farm in Southern Maryland and enjoys working on the family farm in his spare time.

Presentations for each speaker start at the below timestamps:

  • Dominic Reisig: 00:04:03
  • Mohamed Khan: 00:33:45
  • Rick Kersbergen: 01:01:55
  • Ben Beale: 01:20:30

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