Seed World

Popcorn, Salt and Cola: Why Edwin Grote Loves Plant Breeding

Edwin Grote, a seasoned plant breeder with Corteva Agriscience based in Wisconsin, shares his unique journey from growing up on a farm to becoming an expert in his field. The recipient of the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) Private Sector Plant Breeding Impact Award sat down at the recent NAPB annual meeting in Greenville, SC, to offer a valuable perspective on the joys and challenges of working in plant breeding and the agricultural industry.

Grote’s insights underscore the significance of being in the field and the power of collaboration in driving innovation and success.

Reconnecting with the Outdoors: A Farmer’s Heart

“It’s funny,” Grote reflects, “I grew up on a farm and mostly outside, and then you go to school, go to college, go to grad school, and there’s a lot of inside work, some lab work, but then going outside and then in the field is kind of like recess, you know?” For Grote, the favorite part of his work lies in the simple pleasure of being out in the field, observing the agricultural events unfold. He finds joy in witnessing how different crops withstand the elements and thrive, learning firsthand from nature’s lessons.

Cultivating Collaborative Environments: The Power of Interaction

Grote emphasizes the importance of interactions with staff in various agricultural stations. From part-time workers to fellow breeders, these interactions serve as fertile ground for sharing ideas. Grote believes that such exchange of thoughts fuels creativity and innovation, contributing to the progress of agricultural practices and the development of new breeding techniques.

A Calling Discovered Early: A Passion for Plant Breeding

Grote recounts his early fascination with a red ear of corn that his father gave him. This seemingly insignificant event set the stage for a lifelong passion. “I planted it out the next summer right next to the house, a terrible place to put it, but I was there looking at it, watching it grow every day. I was so proud of my little crop,” he reminisces.

Bridging Agriculture and Business: Lessons from Specialty Corn

In his exploration of the agricultural landscape, Grote delves into the intriguing story of the popcorn industry’s evolution. He highlights how the popcorn industry collaborated with Coca-Cola and a salt company to create a campaign that tapped into the changing dynamics of entertainment. This partnership boosted sales by aligning popcorn consumption with the rise of television viewership, demonstrating the interconnectedness of plant breeding with broader market trends.

The Significance of Institutional Knowledge and Experience

Grote emphasizes the value of institutional knowledge and experiences in plant breeding. In his conversations with retired breeders, Grote discovers a wealth of knowledge that proves invaluable in refining breeding techniques and avoiding past mistakes. “It’s good to dig into,” he remarks, highlighting the treasure trove of insights from those who’ve shaped the industry.

Success Ingredients: Hard Work, Data Quality, and Adaptability

When asked about the key to his success, Grote’s response is both simple and profound. He acknowledges the dedication of the staff at the stations, attributing their commitment to data quality as a cornerstone of success. Grote also emphasizes the importance of staying open to new innovations and embracing adaptability as a means to keep progress flowing.