Seed World

DIY Plant Breeding Can Lead to Big Things

Pete Giesbrecht is president of Manitoba’s Pulse Genetics.

I started my breeding program in 2010 as a hobby, but always with the intent of making it into more than that.

Pulse Genetics came into existence three years ago. As someone without formal training in plant breeding, starting a breeding company is especially gratifying. For 20 years I’ve been working in the ag industry, about half of it as an agronomist and the other half in research and variety development. Plant breeding is sort of where I cut my teeth.

As any plant breeder knows, it’s a lot of hard work and can take up evenings and weekends. Without a public or private sector breeding program behind me, a lot of hand labour was involved, but also a lot of creativity and innovation. Starting from home garden plots, working up to community garden plots, and then finally working with some local seed growers, I’ve really had to push through to get to this point.

Going to university is something I’ve always wanted to do. Of course, life takes different turns and I didn’t get around to that right away. I figured once I turned 50, it was about time to complete my diploma in agriculture, which I did last spring. I went to the University of Manitoba not just for the education, but to supplement the experience I’ve gained working in the industry and also to begin building a network with public institutions and academia. Upon graduating at 54, I immediately had the opportunity to become a part-time sessional instructor.

I have a strong connection to the farming community. A passion for research and innovation complements my desire to see agriculture become both profitable and sustainable. I believe in growing knowledge and promoting agriculture.

That brings me to where I am today. My company Pulse Genetics — based in Winkler, Man. — is elated to be a part of an initiative spearheaded by Protein Industries Canada. Along with NRGene Canada, Farmers Business Network Canada and Manitoba Harvest, we are developing new pea and hemp varieties for use in food and ingredient processing, including a new pea-hemp flour blend.

Collectively, we’ll focus on increasing the protein content and improving the starch content and texture of ingredients derived from the new varieties, potentially increasing their use in plant-based foods and beverages across Canada and internationally.

Pulse Genetics will focus on improving Canada’s well-established pea sector. Promising lines are being tested with the goal of achieving registration and sales in the next two-to-three years. As a newcomer to the plant breeding community, we’re excited to be a part of this strategic partnership.

With the explosion of the plant-based protein market, there’s a lot of opportunity to create exciting new pea varieties tailored to what consumers want. We have a chance to improve on numerous traits, be it starch content, protein content, digestibility, nutrition and texture. Consumers are looking for all of these.

Naturally, the road to get there won’t be without its bumps. As a small plant breeder just breaking into the industry, I can attest to the need to revamp our current royalty system in order to capture value back into a growing company.

Ultimately, Canada can become more involved in international pulse development in order to bolster food security, perhaps by introducing traits that work well in certain parts of the world. It starts here at home and then spreads abroad.

We can collectively get there with hard work and ingenuity. With a do-it-ourselves attitude, we can accomplish this and more.