New Grain Farmers of Ontario Professorship in Wheat Breeding and Genetics

Posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Prof. Helen Booker has been hired as an associate professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture, assuming the Grain Farmers of Ontario Professorship in Wheat Breeding and Genetics position.

Prof. Booker will officially start in the role on September 1, 2020 but will begin a two-month research scientist’s position on July 1 to manage the University of Guelph Wheat Breeding Program during the summer months.

“This is a key position for our department, the University and Ontario grain farmers,” says Prof. Hugh Earl, chair of the Department of Plant Agriculture. “I am so pleased to welcome Helen back to Guelph. I know her expertise in plant breeding and her talent for developing successful commercial varieties will bring considerable value to our students and industry stakeholders.”

This position was supported by a $1-million investment made in 2013 involving the Grain Farmers of Ontario, SeCan and the Ontario Agricultural College.

“The intent of the professorship was to drive development of well-adapted, improved wheat varieties for Ontario’s grain farmers,” explains Crosby Devitt, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario. “This investment will help improve wheat’s position in the rotation with the dominant corn and soybean crops on farm, contributing to improved soil health outcomes and mitigating production and price risks for farmers.”

“I feel it is important to mention that Prof. Ali Navabi was the first person to hold the Grain Farmers of Ontario Professorship in Wheat Breeding,” adds Prof. Earl. “Ali joined the department in 2014 and established a highly-respected wheat breeding program. He is sorely missed, but I do think Ali would be pleased that Helen, a past collaborator of his, is taking the reins of the research program.” Navabi sadly passed away in 2019. He is remembered by his peers, past students and industry partners for his exceptional teaching, research and mentorship.

In this role, Booker will conduct both basic and applied research in plant breeding and genetics.  Her research will focus on creating novel cereal varieties with enhanced productivity, disease resistance, pest resistance, and enhanced utility in crop rotation systems. She will also teach undergraduate and graduate level courses and advise graduate students.

Booker joins the Department of Plant Agriculture from the University of Saskatchewan where she currently leads the Flax Genetics and Breeding Program. She attained her Ph.D. in plant sciences from the University of West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad in 2006 and received both her M.Sc. and B.Sc. from the University of Guelph.

During her career, Booker has registered seven new linseed (flax) cultivars and has published 25 papers, two books, and three book chapters.

“At SeCan we’ve had the pleasure of working with Helen for many years as flax breeder at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre,” says Jeff Reid, general manager of SeCan. “Helen has demonstrated her technical abilities as a breeder, and her leadership with a team of professionals to develop products that meet the needs of industry.”

 “I’m excited to embrace this new challenge in wheat breeding and genetics at the University of Guelph,” says Booker. “I look forward to leading the wheat breeding team and joining the faculty in plant agriculture.”

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