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A Perfect Fit: Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program and Me

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By Sarah Battenfield
MBBISP Scholar
Kansas State University

sarahWheat farming and cattle ranching are my family’s business.  Some of my first memories involve going to our wheat field in Oklahoma and riding the combine with my dad.  From a very early age, I helped my grandmother cook for the harvesters in the field, and as soon as I could reach the pedals, I helped move equipment and operated tractors and combines.

My father wanted me to go to college and pursue any other career because, honestly, farming is hard.  He told me to remember the hard days of manual labor, how unmerciful the weather can be, and the challenges of dealing with the rains, diseases, and the markets.  My experiences on our Oklahoma wheat farm, however, instilled in me a passion for agriculture and wheat, and for helping farmers worldwide suffer fewer bad years.  That’s what led me to wheat breeding.

My ultimate goal is to work in wheat breeding in the public sector, with an international scope.  With this in mind, I applied for and was awarded a grant from the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP).  This program allows me to be a “shuttle breeding student” in the breeding programs of Kansas State University (KSU) and CIMMYT-Mexico—my own version of Dr. Borlaug’s game-changing shuttle within Mexico.  I’ve already spent two months working with  the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT-Mexico) and will work there with the wheat breeders another five months before completing my Ph. D.  This hands-on, international experience is an invaluable addition to my courses, research and field work in wheat breeding at KSU, the Kansas Wheat Improvement Center, and in the Kansas wheat fields.

From left, Edward Runge of Texas A&M University, Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar Sarah Battenfield, and Monsanto Integrated Farming Systems Lead Ted Crosbie touring of the Monsanto Seeds facility in Ankeny, Iowa today.

From left, Edward Runge of Texas A&M University, Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar Sarah Battenfield, and Monsanto Integrated Farming Systems Lead Ted Crosbie touring of the Monsanto Seeds facility in Ankeny, Iowa today.

The MBBISP grant funds my project with CIMMYT, where I am trying to develop genomic selection models to predict bread-making quality.  This is very important to producers worldwide because no variety, even a very high-yielding variety, will be widely adopted if it cannot be used in the local market.  I hope to demonstrate how genomic selection can change the way breeding is conducted for quality, particularly for breeding programs with fewer resources for quality testing.  This will improve sustainability as we strive to increase wheat yields while still focusing on the grain’s vital importance as a staple food crop.

Sarah at work on the farm

Sarah at work on the farm

The MBBISP has been very personally and professionally rewarding.  Scholars can tailor their own programs to meet personal goals.  My grant has allowed me to travel across the United States and Mexico, where I have met and collaborated with people I never would have otherwise.  Last year I attended presentations of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at the World Food Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!  I also met the Borlaug family, many other MBBISP recipients, various World Food Prize winners, the Administrator of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Director Generals of CIMMYT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Potato Center (CIP).  I also met many scientists and students working for and with CIMMYT, several collaborators within the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, and several executives of Monsanto and other large agriculture companies.  Now I have friends in this industry from every continent that grows wheat.

All of these connections are kept strong by the fact that we are all family with a common goal — helping to feed the world!

Sarah Battenfield became a Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar in September 2012. 

3 Responses to "A Perfect Fit: Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program and Me"

  1. Sarah,

    I’m glad to read about all the good you are doing! I’m so happy to see a friend doing so well! You’re a true role model!

  2. Sarah: I am a friend of your aunt Jeanne Robison here in Texas. I worked with Hank Beacell for three years at a company named RiceTec in Alvin, Texas. I met Norman Borlaug several times when he reviewed my R&D programs at Dow AgroSciences where I was Director of Biotechnology and Plant Genetics for 12 years.

    Your aunt Jeanne is justifiably proud of you and passed the news on to me.

    Best wishes for the bright career you have ahead.

    Dr. Alan R. Gould
    SoftBiotech Consulting

    Verdant Partners LLC

    Board of Directors
    FuturaGene Ltd.

  3. i am the master student of plant physiology at G.B. Pant university of Agriculture and technology Pantnagar. India .
    As a son of farmer i know various technique which can be apply in farming but as a student of G.B Pant university i know how to apply these technique to grow better crop in field therefore i will searching such as platform which can recognize my talent.thanks


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