Seed World

20 Most Inspiring Gen Z Employees In The EU Seed Sector In 2022

Dear readers of European Seed,

Young people are the future of humankind. This is of course true for all sectors in society, but with the seed sector, and agriculture being literally at the basis of our food production, this fact is particularly true for these two. But most countries are faced with a massive problem: an aging population! The average age of people across the globe has been increasing, and nowhere is that more felt than in agriculture. The age structure of farm managers in the EU is alarming. Almost 60 per cent of EU farmers are 55 years or older, and only around 5 per cent is younger than 35 years. In the seed sector the situation is slightly better, but not great either.

For the future of our food, the employment and engagement of young people in these sectors is crucial. Unfortunately, the sectors have not been attracting a lot of young people over the past decades, and there is an urgent need to strengthen the appeal of agriculture and food systems to a younger generation. Luckily the seed and agri-food sectors are filled with the very wide range in diverse activities, and there is a large, untapped reservoir of employment opportunities to be discovered.

In this issue of European Seed, we would like to put the spotlight on some of the young people that are active in our sector, and provide an inspiration for others. We selected the age group until 30 years, often termed as ‘Generation Z’ (or Gen Z).

To find out if there are any Gen Z employees out there in the seed sector, we asked all national seed associations in Europe, and many other peers in the European seed sector to send us their nominations of employees who are making an extra effort to that end.

And as each year, the reactions were overwhelming. What I particularly enjoyed was to see the level of enthusiasm and passion for plant breeding and the seed sector that all nominees were showing. So, there is some hope left.

As in previous years, you will again find a few lines of text per winner, explaining in a nutshell who they are and how they are inspiring others. We hope you enjoy the list, and as usual, we very much welcome and look forward to any feedback you wish to share.

Marcel Bruins

Here are the first 5 of 20, alphabetically on last name:

Etienne Abelard, Turf Breeder at DLF, France

“Passion for agriculture” have been key words for Etienne. After completing a plant breeding internship at the age of 15, from then on, he wanted to be a plant breeder. Etienne started his career at DLF during work-study training. He combines acquired theoretical and practical knowledge, to breed new turf grass varieties in a constantly changing agricultural and environmental context. Etienne has shown technical acumen by implementing the latest breeding methods — such as genome wide selection and high-throughput phenotyping by using remote imaging — to improve and ensure the flow of new varieties. He aspires to implement new technologies to improve the breeding programs of synthetic varieties and increase genetic gain of these programs being in the forefront of the technological development.

Etienne’s dream is — with the help of New Breeding Techniques — to reduce the breeding cycle of grass from 10-12 years to 6-8 years to react more quickly to climate change and market expectations. He is working closely with Christophe Galbrun, at the R&D station in France, who is specialized in turf grass breeding. DLF is headquartered in Denmark.

Pauline Auclair, Product Manager at Vilmorin-Mikado, France

Pauline decided to join the seed sector because seed is the first element, the first step to get a plant, a fruit and finally the first in the global food chain. For young people, the seed business is very dynamic and innovative. The international, multi-cultural environment was also a key factor for her. What Pauline really enjoys about working in the seed sector is the people: she believes that this business gathers passionate people with a strong scientific background.

Pauline is inspiring others thanks to her positivity. She is not afraid of any of the professional challenges she has faced since she started to work with the company. She managed to find solutions, she perseveres and keeps a positive attitude. It’s very easy to work with her, she’s always available for her co-workers, no matter the difference of culture, she’s adapting herself to make it work and in a very nice atmosphere.

Sjoerd Bijl, Policy Officer at Plantum, The Netherlands

Sjoerd Bijl started his work with seed association Plantum right after obtaining his law degree with specialization Intellectual Property Rights. Even though plant breeders’ rights were not explicitly dealt with during his studies, he dug into the specificities of this IP system and was caught by the adaptation of the system to the realities and needs of plant breeding. He can already be considered a trusted source of information for members and colleagues. “The sector is great to work in,” he says, “and the passion that plant breeders have for their work is truly infectious. I believe the legal community in general can still learn a lot from our innovative sector.”

“Whether Sjoerd is a typical Generation Z remains to be seen but having this age group in our team is a great asset,” asserts Niels Louwaars, Plantum managing director.

Claire Cletheroe, Growing Expert at the Solana Group, UK

Claire has a great passion for the potato seed sector. At the age of 22, she joined the Solana group in the UK. Being part of the technical team, Claire is passionate about potatoes from field to fork.

The humble potato is nutritionally rich, flavoursome and a diverse product. With this knowledge, Claire regularly meets different people in the industry, throughout the supply chain, promoting the right potato for the job. Claire communicates with many of their clients on open days, looking at new varieties for many markets with the aim to make potato production more efficient and sustainable, and it starts with the seed potato from the field.

These exciting and challenging times allow Claire to use her skills and passion to make the most of these situations to excite clients about the future of the potato. Claire is enthusiastic about the breeding of new varieties and the development of the potato industry to ensure the potato is noticed.

Romain Delemme, Breeding Associate at BASF, France

“Plant breeding is an inspiring and multidisciplinary domain that always provides intellectual stimulation,” says Romain Delemme, a recent graduate of the emPLANT (Master Erasmus Mundus in Plant Breeding) that trains the future generation of plant breeders in Europe. “What I love in my job as a plant breeder is capturing the vision of what we can achieve in a crop. The scientific challenge of creating hybrid wheat is a great example,” he adds.

For Roman, it was an opportunity after high school to work during the summer at a local breeding company in North France and is where the passion for plant breeding started. Always enthusiastic about the seed sector, he has devoted his budding career with different summer jobs, academic projects and internships in cereal breeding companies (Lemaire Deffontaines, Syngenta and RAGT 2n) before joining BASF in 2021 as breeding associate to support the R&D project in hybrid wheat breeding.

A true optimistic by nature, Romain never fails to deploy his youthful energy and creativity to think outside the box and find new solutions for the challenges that arise with the creation of hybrid wheat. Today, Roman is the BASF key spokesperson for presenting and explaining their work in plant breeding as his colleagues believe he does it in such an engaging and effortless manner.

Continue to parts two, three and four.