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Andy Chen is Charting a Course for Private Sector Wheat Breeding

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Growing up in Taiwan, a young Andy Chen watched his family tend to sugarcane, cultivating a deep-rooted love for agriculture. Little did he know, those childhood experiences would germinate into a lifelong passion for plant science and wheat breeding, leading him to Canada where the 29-year-old now serves as head wheat breeder for Limagrain Cereals Research Canada (LCRC).

“I’ve always had an inclination towards plant science and agricultural science,” Chen says, reminiscing about his family’s farming roots. “The impact of agriculture on our society fascinated me. There’s so much behind the food we find in supermarkets.”

Chen’s family moved to British Columbia when he was 12. Driven by this fascination, Chen pursued a degree in plant science and biology at the University of Toronto. His journey took an unexpected turn when he crossed paths with the late Ali Navabi, a renowned wheat breeder at the University of Guelph. Chen’s stint as a research assistant paved the way for a master’s degree in wheat breeding.

From Guelph he went to the United Kingdom, delving further into wheat genomics, honing his skills and gaining invaluable insights from a European perspective.

It was during his PhD in the UK that fate intervened once again, propelling Chen into the spotlight. A chance encounter with Jason Reinheimer, the former wheat breeder at LCRC, opened doors to a new chapter in Chen’s career and Canada’s wheat breeding landscape.

“I’ve always wanted to come back to Canada, be closer to family, and seize the opportunity to breed wheat in one of the world’s largest wheat-growing regions,” Chen explains.

Not even 30 yet, Chen finds himself at the forefront of private wheat breeding in Canada, steering LCRC’s ambitious initiatives. Despite being a newcomer, Chen’s expertise and dedication have already left a mark on the industry. Historically, cereal breeding was the purview of Canada’s public sector. Chen is out to help change that.

“Our diverse team at LCRC shares a common vision: to develop cultivars that empower farmers,” he says. “Private breeding brings its own set of challenges, but it’s also an exciting opportunity to drive innovation and make a tangible impact.”

Reflecting on his role, Chen acknowledges the pressure inherent in private breeding but remains undeterred by the high stakes. LCRC — a partnership between Canterra Seeds and France’s Limagrain — so far has introduced two wheat varieties to the market, CS Accelerate and CS Daybreak. Both are under the Variety Use Agreement platform administered by Seeds Canada and require farmers to pay a royalty if they choose to save the seed of those varieties for replanting.

“In private breeding, we not only strive to match public programs but to exceed expectations and deliver additional value to farmers,” Chen says. “That’s been an important tool for us as we introduce our new varieties to the market and make our breeding program sustainable long-term.”

With innovations from LCRC on the horizon such as a herbicide tolerant wheat, Chen emphasizes the importance of communication for aspiring plant breeders.

“Whether it’s forging collaborations or sharing ideas, effective communication is essential in this field. And for newcomers, you have to be bold. Have the courage to step up, contribute, and embrace new opportunities.”

With his eyes set on the horizon, Chen remains optimistic about the future of wheat breeding, buoyed by advancements in genotyping technology and groundbreaking traits.

Read the article originally posted on Seed World by Marc Zienkiewicz.