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The 2009 ASHS Annual Conference

Plant Breeding Recruitment and Education: A Puerto Rico-North Dakota Collaborative Initiative

Sunday, July 26, 2009: 11:30 AM
Field (Millennium Hotel St. Louis)
Linda Wessel-Beaver, Agronomy & Soils, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, PR
Feiko H. Ferwerda, Horticulture, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, PR
Richard D. Horsley, Plant Sciences, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND
Plant breeders provide new or improved food, feed, fiber and ornamental plants that enable us to develop new markets, improve agricultural production efficiency, promote healthier food choices, and enhance the environment. Puerto Rico is home to the off-season nurseries of many of the world’s largest seed companies. Plant breeding activities are an important component of agriculture on the island. The demand for graduates to fill jobs in both private and public sector plant breeding in Puerto Rico and across the U.S exceeds the supply. Without plant breeders, new knowledge coming from DNA technologies cannot be incorporated into a product that can be delivered to the farmer and consumer. Using funding from the USDA-CSREES-Hispanic Serving Institutions Education Grants Program, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) is carrying out educational activities with the objective of recruiting and training students for careers in agriculture, with emphasis on plant breeding. The Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University (NDSU) is collaborating in this effort. Both UPRM and NDSU have a tradition of providing their plant breeding graduates with the applied plant breeding skills in demand in today’s employment marketplace. Nineteen undergraduate and graduate students from UPRM have participated in the NDSU Intern Program over the past three summers. Students are paid a weekly stipend and work full time in a plant breeding research program for 2.5 months. Twenty-four faculty and staff participated in a 3 day workshop on plant breeding and genetic resources, enabling participants to more effectively serve on graduate committees of plant breeding students. More than 10 undergraduates have carried out plant breeding related research projects. Nearly 200 high school students have learned about plant breeding via classroom visits. Educational materials have been developed. New equipment has been purchased for the plant breeding and molecular marker labs at UPRM. Five M.S. graduate students have benefited from partial financial support from this program. As of spring 2009, six former UPRM students are beginning degrees in plant breeding and genetics at NDSU, including a Ph.D. student fully supported by this grant.