Seed World

20 Most Influential Women in the EU Seed Sector in 2023

Dear readers of Seed World Europe,

At Seed World Europe we are very passionate about placing the EU plant breeding and seed sector in the spotlight. An ever-growing part of the success of our sector comes from the efforts and contributions of women throughout our value chain. In this edition of our annual ’20 Most’ feature, we aim to acknowledge and celebrate some of the many women who are making important leadership contributions within our beloved sector.

We are proud to be putting the spotlight on 20 inspiring and influential women who are actively making a difference in Europe’s seed sector. To identify some of the most influential women in the seed sector, we asked all national seed associations in Europe and many other peers in the European seed sector to nominate women within or outside of their organizations who have driven the sector higher, exhibited leadership or otherwise were a source of inspiration and positive influence. 

Enthusiasm from the sector was overwhelming. We received an extraordinarily high number of nominations, evidence of just how many incredible women are shaping our sector. In fact, it proved a significant challenge to make the selection for the final ’20 Most’ given such a long list of impressive and worthy nominees. We quickly realized that, while all nominations likely deserve a place on our ’20 Most’ list, hard choices had to be made. After much consideration, we’re delighted to bring forward the following list of truly incredible seed sector builders, advocates and leaders. Join us in celebrating the huge contributions these women make to growing a strong seed sector! 

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

Marcel Bruins, Editorial Director, Seed World Europe

Anna Fisyun: Finance leader, BU East Ukraine, Lidea 

Anna Fisyun began her career in 2008 as the ESU chief accountant at Euralis Ukraine. Over time, she expanded her expertise to cover commercial and production accounting. One of her most notable achievements was overseeing the two acquisitions of 2000-hectare and 1500-hectare farms for Euralis Ukraine.

She also played a crucial role in addressing corruption in Ukraine’s fiscal service during Yanukovich’s presidency. In 2014-2017, Fisyun was instrumental in post-acquisition restructuring, which involved harmonising intercompany flows, standardising work conditions, and implementing a vital ERP system.

In 2020, Fisyun navigated the team through the challenges of remote work during the pandemic, aiming to maintain smooth business processes.

Amidst the uncertainties of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, she led strategic decisions such as developing an action plan to sustain business processes and a transition to Electronic Document Turnover to preserve business integrity.

As a member of the management team, Fisyun’s most recent contributions include contributing to crafting the Global Lidea strategy for 2030 and designing financial strategies for growth and risk management. Leading a dedicated team of 40 professionals, Fisyun’s commitment and collaborative approach define her influence in steering Lidea’s success in the seed sector. 

Anne Williams, Head of Protected Crops at Bayer Crop Science 

With a lifelong career in crop production, Anne Williams has continuously lived the mission of feeding the world’s population using science, innovation and partnerships to bring affordable, nutritious food to market. In her role as head of protected crops at Bayer, Williams is a visionary in the future of protected vegetable production.

She excels at turning her visions into successful outcomes, working tirelessly to leverage global networks and collaborating to explore new crop solutions.

Her career accomplishments include the development, introduction and launch of the DeKalb hybrid oilseed rape portfolio across Europe; strategy development of multi-stack ToBRFV-resistant germplasm solutions for tomatoes; expansion of protected cropping into new geographies and crops; and a recent focus on hi-tech strawberry production.

Anne-Marie Taché, Head of Field Production, Supply, and Industrial Operations at MAS Seeds 

Anne-Marie Taché has been working in the European seed production sector for almost 30 years in various field production and industrial functions. She has served as the head of field production, supply, and industrial operations at MAS Seeds for the past four years.

Managing a team of 230 across six countries, her position is crucial for providing farmers with high-quality seeds and ensuring timely deliveries. Additionally, Taché and her team are currently involved in a massive decarbonization project within the company.

The goal is to be carbon neutral in 2045. To achieve the goal, Taché and her team have launched several actions including a program to produce seeds with low carbon by integrating agroecological field practices into MAS Seeds’ production network.

Her team also successfully launched a new supervision tool for the drying period last year to reduce and better optimize energy consumption in the industrial component of production. 

Birte Boelt, Professor in Seed Crops and Seed Technology at Aarhus University, Denmark 

Birte Boelt’s impact and contributions to plant science and agriculture in the seed sector are noteworthy.

As the leader of one of Europe’s few dedicated seed production research teams, her pioneering work encompasses all aspects of agronomy, significantly influencing agricultural practices for sustainability and enhancing seed yield and quality.

As organizer of the DanSeed symposium since 2007, which provides a platform for knowledge exchange, she actively fosters collaboration between the seed industry and academia.

Internationally recognized, Boelt plays a vital role in the International Seed Testing Association, driving innovation on the Advanced Technology Committee and facilitating knowledge exchange through local workshops. Additionally, she served as the president of the International Herbage Seed Group for eight years.

Her commitment to understanding plant-environment interactions has yielded innovative solutions for efficient cultivation, making her a mentor to students and a guiding force for the next generation of seed scientists. With numerous publications and collaborations, particularly in the seed sector, Boelt’s expertise profoundly influences the sector’s future. 

Dolores Barranco, Melon breeder at Sakata 

With a PhD in Chemical Sciences from the University of Almería, Dolores Barranco has emerged as an inspiring figure in the European Union seed sector.

Coming from the chemical sector, she changed her professional life to dedicate it to genetic improvement of plant varieties.

Her career at Sakata Seed Ibérica for almost 20 years, first as a breeding assistant and currently as a melon breeder, reflects her dedication to the world of plant breeding and her constant commitment to overcoming challenges.

With empathy, professionalism and humility, Barranco leads a team of people dedicated to the constant improvement of melon varieties, managing to perfect the flavour while obtaining stronger and more resistant plants.

Some of these varieties have become benchmarks of quality for the main marketing companies of Piel de Sapo melon. Barranco’s impact on the sector transcends professional boundaries, and she has become an inspiration for many in the European Union. 

Franziska Löschenberger, Wheat breeder in Probstdorf 

After completing her studies in plant production and genetics, Franziska Löschenberger has been employed in Probstdorf for more than 32 years (nine years at Probstdorfer Saatzucht and 23 years at Saatzucht Donau).

She has carried out her work in wheat breeding with great dedication, enthusiasm, creativity and vision. Her profession has been more than a job: it is a true vocation.

In addition to practical plant breeding, she has prioritized research throughout her career. Löschenberger played a major role in 13 national and international research projects, of which she was responsible for the technical management of the project in nine cases.

The successes achieved in 29 years of wheat breeding are impressive and unparalleled: Löschenberger was involved in the breeding of 120 winter wheat varieties with a total of 286 registrations in 23 countries on three continents.

Löschenberger was responsible for 88 varieties (with 226 registrations) from crossing to registration. Furthermore, at the beginning of her breeding activities, she also did important work in durum breeding and contributed to the breeding of 30 spring and winter durum varieties. 

Gemma Clarke, Managing Director at Cope Seeds & Grain 

Soon after completing her studies at the University of Sheffield, Gemma Clarke started working at Cope Seeds & Grain in 2008 and, since 2021, has served as that company’s managing director.

Cope Seeds & Grain strives to connect world-leading seed breeders to farmers and sustainable markets.

Clarke has played a key role in that effort, becoming an agricultural seed specialist providing cereal, pulse and grass seeds, and more. Clarke has helped to build Cope Seeds & Grain into the UK’s largest organic seed producer, championing low input varieties and supporting regenerative farming practices.

Clarke is confident she can continue to grow the business in line with Cope Seeds & Grain’s vision, ensuring farmers are getting the best varieties and advice for a new era in agriculture.

“As a business, we’re excited to be launching new varieties, new contracts, and new industry initiatives to help support British food and farming as we transition to a new subsidy framework and prioritise the environment even more,” she says.

Hedwich Teunissen, Managing Director at CropXR 

After completing her studies in Plant Breeding at Wageningen University and receiving a PhD for her research on Molecular Phytopathology at the University of Amsterdam, Hedwich Teunissen worked for 18 years at Naktuinbouw as a senior scientist, where she was responsible for the research and development in the field of variety identification.

She has developed and implemented state-of-the-art technology for this purpose.

Teunissen established the plant variety identification concept called ‘Variety Tracer’ to investigate suspected infringements on PBR and EDV questions. In addition, she has initiated numerous collaborations with many different stakeholders, coordinated several international research projects and actively promoted the use of DNA technology as a supportive tool in the plant variety testing systems.

These efforts resulted in an advanced and diverse network which Teunissen applies in her new role as managing director of CropXR, a research institute dedicated to developing more resilient crops through data-driven design.

Teunissen is responsible for the daily executive management of the CropXR research institute and acts as the ‘spider building the web’ to connect all partners and stakeholders in making crops more resilient, sustainable and climate adaptive. 

Hélène Guillot (Khan Niazi), Managing Director of the Agricultural Crop Licensing Platform (ACLP)

Since the beginning of her career, Hélène Guillot (Khan Niazi) has always been fully dedicated to the plant breeding sector.

She is a lawyer by training and spent three years at French seed association Union Française des Semenciers (UFS), then another seven years at the International Seed Federation (ISF).

Guillot is very well connected in the seed industry and has extensive experience in managing and bringing together a broad range of interests, stakeholders and topics.

Complemented by her broad expertise in IP, her connections made her the perfect fit for the role of managing director of the Agricultural Crop Licensing Platform (ACLP). The ACLP has been recently established and constitutes a collaborative source for plant breeding innovation, enabling access to innovative traits for all members.

It thereby ensures continued access for breeding of commercial varieties to breeding companies of all sizes. Guillot strives to attract new members and continuously develop the platform to make best use of the benefits of conventional breeding and innovative traits.

Thanks to her leadership and efforts, the plant breeding sector is better positioned to achieve the ambitious targets of the EU Green Deal and F2F Strategy in Europe. 

Laia Fitó, Director R&D at Semillas Fito 

After completing her pharmacy studies, Laia Fitó joined Semillas FITÓ. During her initial years, she assisted her uncle Antonio as a breeder. Fitó established connections with a research institute called IRTA, recognizing that molecular markers and other biotech tools are essential for efficiently breeding new varieties.

After completing management courses at prestigious business schools, she formed an international team of plant breeders and biotechnicians dedicated to working on fruit and vegetable crops.

Since then, Fitó has led the company’s growth by establishing one of the most extensive vegetable breeding programs on a global scale.

Starting with a Spanish foundation, Fitó envisioned a team of enthusiastic breeders, biotechnicians, and farm managers that propelled Semillas Fitó to become one of the top 10 seed fruit vegetable companies in the world.

Today, as the director of R&D and with over 25 years in the company, Fitó leads a global team of more than 350 people across America, Europe and Asia. 

Mariana Silva Artur, Assistant Professor at Wageningen University 

Mariana Silva Artur completed her MSc in Agronomy and Plant Physiology at the University of Lavras in Brazil, followed by a PhD at the Laboratory of Plant Physiology at Wageningen University & Research, where she studied the evolution, structure and function of LEA proteins from seeds.

Silva Artur then completed a postdoc at Utrecht University, investigating development and drought responses of tomato root exodermis.

In 2020, she was appointed as a postdoc in the Seeds for the Future Initiative of the Wageningen Seed Science Centre to bridge fundamental and applied seed research, teaching and mentoring.

Silva Artur was awarded with a personal grant (NWO-ENW Veni grant, 2020), and in 2023 started to develop her research group on plant desiccation tolerance and seed resilience.

With her inspiring enthusiasm, knowledge and skills, she has put seed physiology again on the agenda of many students at the Wageningen University by developing new lectures and a practicum in seed physiology. 

Mariola Markiel, Global Sustainability Lead & Marketing Manager Europe at Alta Seeds 

Mariola Markiel strongly believes that seed companies can truly impact food security.

In her career at Alta Seeds, the European flagship brand of Advanta Seeds, Markiel has focused on promoting the importance of contributing to food security and the well-being of farmers.

Under her leadership, Advanta Seeds was ranked the No. 5 global seed company in the Access to Seeds Index in 2019 and No. 2 in the South and South-East Index.

Advanta also secured No. 4 in the Africa Access to Seeds Index 2021 for contributing to UN SDGs and food security by World Benchmarking Alliances. Markiel also leads initiatives promoting climate-smart and highly nutritious crop awareness among value chain partners and the food sector.

Along with the Alta Seeds European team and various sorghum organizations, including Sorghum ID and Sorghum United, she works on developing sorghum awareness in Europe to tackle climate change problems and promote nutritious, highly productive crops. 

Merel Langens, Global Head of Industry Affairs, BASF | Nunhems

Active in Euroseeds and Plantum on phytosanitary topics, Merel Langens engages in discussions with EU Commission and EPPO members, advocating for regulations that prevent pest spread while facilitating trade.

Her contributions related to EU-emergency measures for Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus showcase dedication to industry collaboration and effective pest management.

As one of the leading ISHI-Veg members and 15-year chair of the solanaceous crops working group, Langens played a pivotal role in setting standards for seed health testing, including initiatives such as spearheading the Systems Approach development and chairing the ISF Expert group, and aiming to simplify and harmonize the international movement of seeds.

Recognizing the need for practical rules, Langens actively fosters collaboration between vegetable seed companies and ISTA members, striving to develop protocols that are both effective and feasible.

These efforts significantly influence the global movement of seeds, ensuring access to seeds for all customers. 

Milena Ouzunova, Head of Breeding Technologies Corn and Oil Crops at KWS 

With her inquiring mind and love for science, Milena Ouzunova has advanced KWS’ corn and oil crops breeding during her 27 years with the company.

Cooperations with research institutions enable her to transfer findings from science into practice and to sharpen the scientific view of plant breeding needs and challenges.

Ouzunova has a passion for training and development of the next generation of molecular breeders.

Ouzunova is honorary professor at the Technical University of Munich and holds an honorary doctorate of the Bulgarian Academy of Agriculture.

At KWS, she established the working group Breeding Technologies Maize and Oil Crops, comprising approximately 65 people supporting corn, sorghum, rapeseed and sunflower breeding.

Ouzunova comes from Bulgaria but has lived in Germany for over 30 years. She places great emphasis on the concept of diversity, both in regard to culture (she’s proud that 14 nationalities are represented in her team) and gender equality. 

Rupashree Dass, Head of Research at Computomics 

Rupashree Dass is a passionate and dedicated researcher with a proven track record in the field of machine learning for plant breeding.

Her expertise is widely recognized, as she has completed numerous scientific publications, articles, and presentations at international conferences.

Dass has spearheaded several data science projects focusing on machine learning algorithms to fully capture the Genotype × Environment × Management interaction in maize and barley.

Leading the ‘Future Climates Project’ and delivering insights on what seed varieties can successfully grow in which regions over the coming decades, she is dedicated to harnessing the power of AI for innovative agriculture solutions.

By collaborating across teams, universities, and clients, Dass is addressing some of the seed sector’s most pressing challenges, including environmental and climate change issues.

She is passionate about translating academic research into commercial use. She is a shining example of leadership and a true inspiration to her peers and colleagues in the EU seed sector, say her nominators.

Severine Jeanneau – Head of Sustainable Seed and Plant Health in Corteva Agriscience 

Séverine Jeanneau stands out as a distinctive figure in the seed sector, with 20 years of experience within various sector organizations including InVivo, Syngenta and Corteva.

Her pledge to advancing sustainable and innovative agriculture, combined with her active involvement in the agricultural community, positions her as an essential link in the seed sector.

Jeanneau’s continual engagement and frequent interactions with diverse expert groups and agricultural organizations reflect her commitment to fostering a collaborative approach.

Besides her current role in Corteva Agriscience, she is also a board member and the president of the Maize & Sorghum section in the French Seed Association (UFS).

She also contributes to the FNPSMS Bureau and embraces the sector’s key challenges. Her involvement in FranceAgriTwittos, an association aimed at (re)creating connections between the agricultural world and society at large, strengthens her unwavering desire to share her expertise.

Jeanneau’s efforts in sustainable agriculture development and positive communication, where she continuously seeks to centralize agriculture in discussions, establish her as an indispensable source of inspiration that transcends borders across the seed industry. 

Svetlana Balesevic Tubic, Secretary General of the Seed Association of Serbia

Svetlana Balesevic has invested 28 years into the seed business and ag research field. Her leadership at EESNET has directly and positively impacted the Southeast European seed sector.

She has actively represented Serbia at the European and international level and significantly improved the performance and visibility of the Seed Association of Serbia (SAS).

Balesevic has strengthened the collaboration between the Serbian seed sector and Euroseeds, introducing the Euroseeds priority topics and helping Euroseeds identify and address the needs of the SAS.

As a researcher in the field of seed physiology, production, quality and storage, she has contributed to the improvement and preservation of seed quality and viability during production and processing, as well as the advancement of agricultural practices, introducing innovative cropping systems in seed production. Balesevic has published research findings in international scientific journals.

Her scientific papers are highly cited, enabling a broader use of her scientific results for application or further research, thereby ensuring improvement in the seed production, processing and quality in Europe and beyond.

As her nominators explain, “Her life is research in seed, collaborating for seed, connecting by seed – her life is seed.” 

Szonja Csörgő, IP & Legal Affairs Manager at the International Seed Federation (ISF)

Szonja Csörgő graduated with a Law degree in Hungary, then started her career in 2008 in the European Commission’s Legal Service and then in the DG Competition.

After two years in public service, she joined Euroseeds as manager of intellectual property and legal affairs and was later promoted to director.

She was part of the Euroseeds family for almost 15 years. In that period, she was responsible for discussing and developing industry positions in the fields of intellectual property and access and benefit-sharing, as well as access to genetic resources and free movement of goods and biodiversity.

She represented Euroseeds’ positions in various fora within the European Institutions and international organizations (including WIPO, UPOV, FAO, CBD, etc.).

Csörgő played an important role in many European discussions on patent protection for seed-related inventions and on the EU ABS Regulation, set up the PINTO database to improve transparency in patents and also recently contributed to the incorporation of the ACLP. Csörgő is currently working as IP & Legal Affairs Manager at the International Seed Federation (ISF). 

Vanessa Prigge, potato breeder and R&D Project Manager at Solana Group 

Vanessa Prigge studied Agricultural Sciences at the University of Hohenheim and completed graduate research at CIMMYT-Mexico.

Her PhD in Plant Breeding and Applied Genetics with thesis research on “Implementation and Optimization of the Doubled Haploid Technology for Tropical Maize Breeding Programs” became the foundation for CIMMYT’s move into large-scale DH production within its Global Maize Program and secured her the Josef G. Knoll European Science Award in 2012.

Prigge has been a potato breeder and R&D project manager at Solana Group for 12 years.

After successfully implementing a pre-breeding program, Prigge focused on potato breeding research. Her pro-active nature and solid scientific background have secured the R&D department several high-profile national and European research collaborations, which paved the way for Solana’s shift towards predictive breeding for variety development.

Prigge currently chairs the section ‘Potato’ of the European Association for Research on Plant Breeding (EUCARPIA) and co-organised the scientific conference “19th Joint Meeting of the EAPR Section ‘Breeding & Varietal Assessment’ and EUCARPIA Section ‘Potatoes’” in Germany in 2018. 

Yolanda Huerta, Vice Secretary-General at UPOV 

In March 2023, Yolanda Huerta was the first woman to be appointed Vice-Secretary General of UPOV since the organization was founded in 1961.

During more than two decades at UPOV, Huerta has been instrumental in assisting and leading UPOV members and candidate UPOV members in Europe and worldwide in implementing effective PVP-systems. She has been a true ambassador for the UPOV system, the promotion of PBR protection and plant innovation.

Through her authentic leadership and wealth of experience, she engages with policy makers and stakeholders on the benefits that the UPOV system brings to farmers, breeders and society at large.

At a time where we face climatic changes, Huerta convincingly conveys the message that innovation is an essential tool in addressing these challenges and that farmers’ access to new plant varieties that are adapted to the environmental and climatical conditions where the variety is used is key. Huerta’s inclusive leadership style inspires her team to perform to the highest standards.