In today’s episode we talk about what’s being developed in terms of pulse varieties for pest and disease resistance, winter hardiness for fall-sown pulses, and what it takes to bring new varieties to the market. Rebecca McGee, Ph.D. joins us to discuss her work on developing varieties of spring-sown peas and lentils, autumn-sown peas, lentils and chickpeas. Dr. McGee is a research geneticist (aka plant breeder) with the USDA-ARS Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit located at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. She has worked for the USDA-ARS since 2009, and before that time she spent 13 years with General Mills as a vegetable pea breeder.
Dr. McGee says one of the things she loves most about her job is developing varieties that are unique, nutritious for the consumer, and well-suited for the environment that the farmers will be growing them in. This last part includes developing resistance to pests and diseases.
“The mission of the ARS is to help America's farmers and the way I can do that is to develop varieties that they can reliably grow year in and year out, regardless of what disease and pest issues they face.” - Rebecca McGee, Ph.D.
She does want to be clear that developing the varieties is just one part of the complicated process of getting new varieties to farmers to grow. It’s of the utmost importance to have communication from everyone involved, especially when it comes to farmers offering feedback on the genetics they’re needing.
“The concept of it takes a village to raise a child, really applies to plant breeding too. It takes a village to create a new (plant) variety. As breeders, we know the genetics, but we rely on plant pathologists, on agronomists, on soil scientists, and a whole range of other scientists to help us in the development process.” - Rebecca McGee, Ph.D.
Producers play a role in her efforts by helping to identify what obstacles and yield limiting traits they are facing. “If it becomes apparent that the stakeholders need resistance to a new disease, it's relatively easy to go to the germplasm collection and search the collection for accessions that are resistant to the disease.” The process only begins with a need from the producer.