Seed World

Find Out What Makes a Game-Changing Variety

It’s a recipe for success: breed a ground-breaking new cultivar, get it to market, and watch growers and end users pick it up and rave about what a game-changer it is.

Of course, it’s never that easy, and on next week’s episode of Seed Speaks, three Canadian plant breeders — Istvan Rajcan, Peter Pauls and Tom Smith — will talk about how they went about creating and successfully commercializing game-changing crop varieties of their own. All three are recipients of 2022 Canadian Plant Breeding Innovation (CPBI) Awards.

Rajcan of the University of Guelph received the 2022 CPBI Plant Breeding and Genetics Award, which honours a breeder whose work has had a major impact on the Canadian ag world. Rajcan has released nearly 70 soybean varieties over the years, including OAC Kent which won Seed of the Year in 2008.
He joined the faculty at the University of Guelph in 1998.

His germplasm is now present in a large percentage of commercially successful soybean varieties grown in Eastern Canada. His products have also been grown beyond Ontario in Quebec, Manitoba and Eastern Europe. They’ve also gained major recognition with soybean end users throughout Europe and Asia.

Being a savvy businessperson in addition to a breeder has been key to his success — a piece of advice he learned many years ago from a Croatian plant breeder, the late Vladimir Puskaric, who was a maize breeder with Pioneer Hi-bred in Woodstock, Ont.

“Before we invest our time in developing a cultivar, we need to know who the customer is, and what they want. I have to constantly keep reminding seed companies that if they come up with a new trait they want in a soybean cultivar, the timeline is eight to 10 years. They can’t expect us to have that trait in our high yielding cultivars within a couple of years. That would be great, but it’s not possible,” Rajcan says.

Pauls and Smith, also from the University of Guelph, created the Dynasty dark red kidney bean and received the 2022 Seed of the Year Award for it. Dynasty has set the bean world on fire and now comprises 90% of all dark red kidneys grown in Ontario nearly a decade after its release.

For Pauls and Smith, seeing Dynasty become the definitive dark red kidney bean variety in Ontario and abroad is a huge reward considering it didn’t live up to expectations the first year it was trialed.

“During the first year of provincial trials it for some reason didn’t yield well compared to the checks, but we knew we had something in this line. So, we entered it as a first-year line again, and of course then it performed the way we expected. We still don’t really know what happened that first year, but it’s a good thing we believed in it and didn’t give up,” Smith says.

Join host Marc Zienkiewicz on March 30 at 12 p.m. CDT at the YouTube link above as he interviews this trio of plant breeding legends about how they successfully created and commercialized such innovative products, and their advice for others on how to do so.