Episode 12

Published on:

30th Jul 2021

Pulse Genetics with Rebecca McGee, Ph.D.

In today’s episode we talk about what’s being developed in terms of pulse varieties for pest and disease resistance, winter hardiness for fall-sown pulses, and what it takes to bring new varieties to the market. Rebecca McGee, Ph.D. joins us to discuss her work on developing varieties of spring-sown peas and lentils, autumn-sown peas, lentils and chickpeas. Dr. McGee is a research geneticist (aka plant breeder) with the USDA-ARS Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit located at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. She has worked for the USDA-ARS since 2009, and before that time she spent 13 years with General Mills as a vegetable pea breeder. 

Dr. McGee says one of the things she loves most about her job is developing varieties that are unique, nutritious for the consumer, and well-suited for the environment that the farmers will be growing them in. This last part includes developing resistance to pests and diseases.

“The mission of the ARS is to help America's farmers and the way I can do that is to develop varieties that they can reliably grow year in and year out, regardless of what disease and pest issues they face.” - Rebecca McGee, Ph.D. 

She does want to be clear that developing the varieties is just one part of the complicated process of getting new varieties to farmers to grow. It’s of the utmost importance to have communication from everyone involved, especially when it comes to farmers offering feedback on the genetics they’re needing.

“The concept of it takes a village to raise a child, really applies to plant breeding too. It takes a village to create a new (plant) variety. As breeders, we know the genetics, but we rely on plant pathologists, on agronomists, on soil scientists, and a whole range of other scientists to help us in the development process.” - Rebecca McGee, Ph.D.

Producers play a role in her efforts by helping to identify what obstacles and yield limiting traits they are facing. “If it becomes apparent that the stakeholders need resistance to a new disease, it's relatively easy to go to the germplasm collection and search the collection for accessions that are resistant to the disease.” The process only begins with a need from the producer.

This Week on Growing Pulse Crops:

  • Meet Dr. Rebecca McGee, a research geneticist (aka plant breeder) with the USDA-ARS Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit located at Washington State University in Pullman, WA
  • Explore the many steps involved in creating and producing new varieties of crops for producers
  • Discover the goals and efforts made by plant breeders on behalf of producers

Growing Pulse Crops Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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About the Podcast

Growing Pulse Crops
The science and business of farming field peas, chickpeas, and lentils
This show features the latest in research, agronomy, and economics of pulse crops (peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc.).

Demand for these nutrient-dense, high-protein foods continues to grow. There is also interest from farmers to include more pulses into diverse rotations for benefits like nitrogen fixation and soil health.

But the industry continues to face challenges, and we are eager to address these head on. So if you’re a pulse grower or in any way interested in these important crops, hit subscribe and stay tuned for future episodes. We’ll be back with plenty of information about challenges pulse farmers are facing throughout the U.S. and what solutions are working.

Brought to you by the Pulse Crops Working Group with support from the North Central IPM Center and USDA NIFA.

About your host

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Tim Hammerich

I share stories about agriculture, agtech, and agribusiness on podcasts and radio.