International Women’s Day – An insight to plant breeding

This International Women’s Day, we have asked our Plant Breeder, Coretta Kloeppel, a few questions about what led her down a career path in agriculture and what steps she has taken to become a plant breeder.

We have many fantastic women who lead the way at Elsoms, helping us work towards helping to feed an ever-increasing world population. We’re proud to be a part of helping to create an inclusive world by celebrating the women in our business, their determination, dedication and the hard work each of them put in.

Q: What influenced you to choose a career in plant breeding?

A: I was surrounded by agriculture throughout my childhood as my family is from a farming background. My dad and grandad (despite being 80 years old!) are working on 120 ha of arable land growing wheat, barley, rye, oilseed rape and occasionally beans or peas – which led me to want to focus my career on agriculture. After spending most of my childhood outside, I loved the thought of having a job where I would have the opportunity to spend some of my time working outdoors. Working with nature, plants in particular, and being part of the chain from seed to food is fascinating as you can witness the journey of a seed transforming into a potential next big-selling variety.

Q: What would your advice be to someone interested in a career in plant breeding?

A: If you’re considering a career in plant breeding and are interested in applied plant sciences, agriculture or horticulture, don’t let anything hold you back! Plant breeding is a fascinating and diverse subject, but it’s not plain sailing – you need to be determined. But most importantly, you need to have a passion for what you do. Surround yourself with the right people who encourage and support you in what you want to achieve. Whoever you are, celebrate your achievements and be proud of your journey.

Q: What’s your biggest achievement to date working at Elsoms?

A: A great success of mine is a part of the continuous improvement of all stages of the company’s breeding programmes, which helped me achieve my promotion to Plant Breeder. There’s always a way of improving existing methods and finding better ways of doing things. After working on our breeding material in the glasshouses and suggesting methods of improvement, I’ve seen our seed sets’ success improve by over 40% in the past three years!

Another great success is being part of a breeding team that is developing new and improved varieties and witnessing how well these varieties, i.e., Hector (Brussels sprouts variety) and Burgundy (PSB variety), perform in trials and commercial fields. It’s great to see them gaining more and more interest. 

Q: What are your main tasks and responsibilities in your job role? 

A: The job is hugely varied. It includes everything from getting dirty in the field, from planting some of our trials to discussing the newest scientific research available to help our breeding programs. One of the main functions of a plant breeder is to set up field and glasshouse trials, and these are to assess each variety for many different traits. These include the general quality of a variety and size, shape, colour, firmness, vigour and maturity. We also assess diseases, which different factors can cause.

We regularly collaborate with the crop managers to understand the markets and identify which traits the growers need in their crops. Without this vital relationship, we wouldn’t be able to breed what the market requires. We can then use this information in the selections we make in the field, determining which plants are brought back for further analysis. Being involved in this process has motivated me to achieve one of my main goals for the next ten years: to breed a resilient variety to meet the growers need.

Finally, the most crucial part of being a plant breeder is making decisions on new crosses to create new material that may become a new variety down the line. One of the best parts of the job is being out in the field, visiting trials and seeing crosses that are doing well. It’s a fantastic feeling for the team and me. 

Some of the Elsoms breeding team: Rebecca Penfold, Panida Wadsworth, Sally Minns and Coretta Kloeppel (left to right)