Monsanto donates $1 million to SDSU

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

A $1 million Monsanto commitment to plant breeding at SDSU could attract the next generation of plant breeders to SDSU’s graduate program while creating a pipeline of talent for the agricultural company.

Monsanto will complete its pledge over the next five years and will fund six to eight Monsanto Graduate Fellowships in Plant Breeding, the company and university announced jointly at the Innovation Campus on March 19.

“The chance to help with research and provide students with hands-on experience is huge,” said Matt Tollefson, a math education major and the Students’ Association president.

Don Marshall, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, said the partnership will first serve as a recruitment tool for the plant breeding program.

“It helps provide funding to our graduate students and helps us be more competitive when attracting good students to our graduate programs,” he said.

“The graduate students we have presently at SDSU are already good, but this will help them along [with recruiting],” said Kyle Gustafson, a senior agronomy major.

Once those students are recruited, President David L. Chicoine said the partnership will help SDSU train these up-and-coming plant breeders, making them industry-ready and well-versed in advanced genomics techniques and cutting-edge breeding practices.

“Because of this unique integration of advanced genomics and plant breeding know-how, Monsanto Fellows in Plant Breeding will be able to more rapidly contribute to and be leaders of the research and development work that will result in the next generation of advances in seed technology,” Chicoine said.

These advances are directly tied to the local and regional economy, the president said.

“The economic prosperity of this state and of this region depends on a prosperous agriculture,” he said. “A prosperous agriculture depends on the rapid development, adaptation and deployment of new technologies.”

Wheat research alone has an annual economic impact of about $100 million per year, Kevin Kephart, vice president for research, said.

Along with helping SDSU, the program will benefit Monsanto through producing skilled plant breeders who, if hired, could help the company achieve its goals.

In 2008, Monsanto announced it wanted to double yields in crops of corn, cotton and soybeans by 2030 from a base year of 2000, while reducing water and energy per unit produced inputs by one-third. Those goals are driven in part by the increasing world population, said Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto.

“There is a tremendous opportunity and need for agriculture in food and energy security,” he said.

Fraley, whose company has been working on the collaboration with SDSU for a year, said he looks forward to the partnership.

“We have a long history of collaboration working with scientists with SDSU and the biotechnology community,” said Fraley. “This absolutely steps that up to the next level, and I’m excited and pleased with that.”

In addition to Monsanto, SDSU will work closely with Michigan State University. Marshall said SDSU graduate students could go to Michigan State for a few weeks and vice versa, allowing students to gain knowledge from both programs and in turn enhance their home university.

“Together through this team play, South Dakota State University, Michigan State University and Monsanto, we will accomplish much more,” said Chicoine.

#1.881775:1434224349.jpg:Monsanto.PK.CMYK.jpg:William Berzonsky sorts wheat seed using a seed color sorter for Monsanto for this spring’s trial plots. Two students working on this project will be working with Monsanto after completion of this project.:Pavan Kulkarni