Seed World

Never Stop Learning and Nourish Your Network, says Plant Breeding Legend Bryan Harvey

Germination put out the call for nominations to identify some of our industry’s most important mentors who have played a role in helping the next generation develop their skills. We had three main criteria: they be a person who’s demonstrated proven mentorship skills; they be at least 55 years of age; and they be retired from their main seed industry job. Here’s the first of who we selected for 2022.

Bryan Harvey

Age: 84

Location: Saskatchewan

Known for: Leading with actions, not just words

Bryan Harvey is one of Canada’s most legendary plant breeders. According to Wilf Keller — himself one of Canada’s most renowned crop development scientists — Harvey’s mentorship style was based on more than words but on concrete actions. In his professional career as an outstanding geneticist and barley breeder, Harvey influenced (and mentored) faculty colleagues as well as researchers and managers.

“This influence and associated mentorship was often exhibited through his tireless commitment in serving in senior (volunteer and unpaid) roles with numerous relevant not-for-profit organizations and industry associations,” Keller says.

To name just a few, these included the Canadian Seed Growers Association, Agricultural Institute of Canada, Canadian Agri-Food Research Council, and a number of expert committees engaged in varietal recommendation.

People impacted (and mentored) by Harvey have supported his nomination as a recipient of the Order of Canada and Saskatchewan Order of Merit, induction into both the Canadian and Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame, and the award of Honourary Doctor of Science from the University of Saskatchewan.

“Bryan was by far the most significant mentor impacting my career. I was one of six first-year ag students registered at what was then the University of Saskatchewan Regina campus. It was necessary for us to transfer to Saskatoon for year two in 1966. Bryan recognized that our group lacked the professional environment that first-year students experienced in Saskatoon,” Keller adds.

“He took the initiative to meet with each member of the Regina group to discuss advanced courses and career opportunities giving real-life examples. This meeting definitely influenced my decision to register as a crop science student.”

Now 84, Harvey still serves as an emeritus professor at the University of Saskatchewan. After having developed more than 60 varieties of barley throughout his prolific 50-year research career, he was inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2020.

“I think there’s two things that I would stress in regard to being a successful plant breeder,” he says. “First of all, never stop learning throughout your life. And secondly, nourish your network. That’s critical. The chances of a loner making a success of things in this day and age are pretty small; you really need to work as part of a team, and that’s your network.”