The National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) has recently completed elections, selecting Dr. Brett Carver, wheat breeder from Oklahoma State University, as its new chair and Dr. Paul Murphy, small grains breeder at North Carolina State University, as vice chair.
NWIC has primarily been an organization of public wheat breeders, though it is in the process of restructuring to allow for more stakeholder involvement, including more participation from wheat farmers.
NAWG has taken over the secretariat role for NWIC to assist the group’s volunteer leaders in day-to-day activities of the organization. This new role for the Association builds on a longstanding relationship between the two groups; among other things, NAWG and NWIC sponsor a research fly-in each winter to educate Members of Congress about the importance of a strong public research system.
To help the wheat community get to know him better, NAWG asked Dr. Carver – whose title is officially the OSU Regents Professor and Wheat Genetics Chair in Agriculture – a few questions about his work and the organization he will now lead:
How did you get involved in wheat breeding? Is this what you wanted to do when you were growing up?
My career path to wheat breeding was anything but straight, actually starting out in soybean lipid biochemistry, working with the ARS soybean unit at N.C.-State as a master’s student in the early 1980s. One project led to another, and genetics gradually came into the picture, culminating in a wheat genetics faculty position at Oklahoma State in 1985. As a researcher and germplasm developer, I had an unusual opportunity to “apprentice” with wheat breeder Dr. Ed Smith for 14 years, before taking over the wheat breeding program at OSU upon Ed’s retirement in 1998.
Not surprisingly, wheat breeding was not a childhood aspiration, but science always had my attention. Though I did not grow up on a farm, I was truly enamored by the farming way of life as a youngster. I was the only kid on the block in Decatur, Ga., with a John Deere tractor tricycle. And so today, yes, it’s odd, but there are days I have to yank myself out of the field and come indoors.
What do you actually do on a daily basis?
Of course, I like to do the scholastic things that keep a university employee engaged with the knowledge base (writing) and with the profession (society activities). But mostly, I direct a research and wheat variety development program that employs four full-time assistants and as many as 14 part-time student employees throughout the year.
I get to work with a dynamic team of scientists, called the OSU Wheat Improvement Team. While they each have their own agenda in research, extension or teaching, their talents are brought together in various capacities to benefit the Oklahoma wheat industry. It’s a challenging but highly gratifying part of my daily job.
Finally, I do on a local scale what will be required on a national scale with NWIC, and that is to serve as the voice of wheat improvement research for Oklahoma. Interacting with stakeholder groups is a daily, and rewarding, part of the job. The research is not complete until it is delivered, in some form, to those who have a stake in it.
Why do you think NWIC is important?
NWIC should represent a unified spirit and collective voice of the scientific community dedicated to the improvement of wheat and its many products. Without that voice, the scientific process may not be fulfilled, or fully and accurately communicated to various publics.
NWIC also represents a key component of the wheat continuum from drill to mill, and thus we must maintain synchrony with other segments along the continuum if the industry as a whole is to stay healthy. Working with NAWG, U.S. Wheat Associates and other key industry organizations is paramount to that synchrony, and something I will personally and professionally value.
Any final thoughts?
Though it is easy to get caught up in the things we as wheat researchers lack, we do have to stop long enough to recognize that the U.S. wheat research community is a shining example of innovation and success.
I am convinced that our scientists, whether public or private, or state or federal, are as talented as a Kansas wheat field is long. To put it in sports jargon, we may not have the deepest bench among the major field crops, but the ones on the field can score!
The new NWIC will look forward to working with our national leadership to beef up that roster, and not simply move players around to fill holes. And as we find ways to be more competitive in a crop productivity sense, we must continue to embrace all technologies, not just those that come blueprinted in the seed.