Growing Young Leaders meet Calum Watt a crop breeder for the future

In partnership with Corteva Agriscience we invited emerging leaders in the agriculture sector to share with us what drives them. We also asked them to tells us if they had a magic wand what would they change in the agriculture sector.

Today’s guest blog comes from PhD candidate and crop breeder Calum Watt

“ I get a lot of excitement from being involved in an industry that is everyday looking for ways to produce more, from less, in the most sustainable way possible. No day is same. There is never a dull moment on my career path.”

Calum shares with us:

  • Careers in agriculture extend beyond the farm gate. “Farmers” can be scientists
  • Crop scientists can improve the productivity, profitability, resilience and sustainability of Australia’s crops
  • Communication is critical to connecting science to the paddock

This is Calum’s story

Warming to the idea that a career in agriculture could or would be for me was somewhat of a slow burn at first.

This is a bit unusual given as I grew up surrounded by agriculture in a rural dairy community in the south of Western Australia. Whilst I loved the lifestyle, I never really considered agriculture from a career perspective because everyone involved in agriculture are farmers, aren’t they?

Or at least that is what I originally thought back in my wild youth. My lightbulb moment came one year into a botany degree that agriculture was where I was wanted to be and my role as an agricultural scientist, more precisely a crop breeder would see me join the 82% of careers in agriculture that support farmers to produce food

.At university I developed a keen interest in genetics and whilst I had always had a passion agriculture and plants I had no idea that there was a career that could marry them all together. This is when I discovered the important role of a crop breeder. An ability to recombine genes to improve the resilience, sustainability and productivity of crop production is something so satisfying; something so simple yet something so critically important to improving our local and global food security. The late Norman Borlaug, an inspiration of mine, stove off global food insecurity by manipulating only a handful of genes through breeding, effectively doubling global crop production in what is known as the Green Revolution.

Gene-editing, has the potential to address the concerns consumers care about most: nutritional health, climate change, food waste and the need for more natural production techniques.

Techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9, which cuts and ‘edits’ strands of DNA, may enable farmers to reduce their use of pesticides, while boosting the resilience of crops to fungi, extreme weather and enriching their nutrient content.

There set the stage for a further 8 years at university progressing me slowly, but surely towards a career as a crop breeder to play my role in supporting global food security and achieving  Global Goal 2 – Zero Hunger and Global Goal 12  Responsible Production and Global Goal 13 Climate Action    

Being a plant breeder allows me to combine my three main passions into one role where I can improve the productivity, profitability, climate resilience and sustainability of Australia’s crop production and help ensure everyone has access to safe, affordable, nutritious food as efficiently as possible. If we can manipulate one gene, improve disease resistance and reduce the need for fungicides this is a win for people and the planet.

I am so optimistic about the future of agriculture and my place within it . The recent awarding of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna  for the development of a method for genome editing  known as CRISPR-Cas9 is an exciting example of just one spanner in the toolbox which crop researchers and breeders can utilise to develop the climate resilient crops of the future.

My excitement at the level of science and technology I get to work with as a crop breeder inspires me to share my story and the research behind the work my fellow crop breeders do on podiums across the country.

I invite you to Join me in an industry that everyday is looking for ways to produce more, from less, in the most efficient, climate resilient way possible.

Calum has recently submitted his PhD and joined the crop breeding team at Intergrain

Listen to Calum share his story on the Generation Ag podcast here 

and read more in this recent Farm Weekly Young Guns article

Learn more about Calum’s work via his published journal articles

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2020.01273/full

https://www.publish.csiro.au/cp/CP20169

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00122-020-03579-z

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00122-018-3243-y

 

Author: Picture You in Agriculture

The world needs creative, innovative and courageous young people who can connect, collaborate and act. We know that youth may only be 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future. The time is now to let them share their dreams and design the future they want to see.

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