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Developing Seeds in Diversified Farming Systems

Panel Discussion | April 28 | 3-5 p.m. | Morgan Hall, Morgan Lounge


Charlie Brummer, Director, Center for Plant Breeding, University of California-Davis; Kevin Murphy, Assistant Professor of Plant Breeding, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University; Matthew Dillon, Manager, Agricultural Policy and Programs, Clif Bar & Company; Liz Carlisle, PhD Candidate, Geography, UC Berkeley

Berkeley Food Institute


Seeds are an essential part of agri-food systems. Without seeds, we would not have food crops to feed humans and animals; and without the thousands of years of plant breeding that farmers have carried out, we would not have the countless varieties that enrich our food cultures. With the rise of industrialized agriculture, highly concentrated seed companies, and GM crops, seed diversity has begun to shrink greatly. In recent decades, the vast majority of seed R&D effort and spending has focused on conventional crops. This means that organic and diversified farmers often use seeds that are poorly adapted to their conditions. That is, the historic practices of developing seeds in their farming and agrobiodiversity contexts are being lost.

This panel will explore the role of seeds and seed breeding in fostering sustainable agriculture. Specifically, we will look at how seeds can be developed for the conditions of diversified farming systems (e.g., multiple crops, intercropping, pest control/ecosystem services). How can seed development help diversified farmers better adapt to their changing environments, especially climate change? What is participatory plant breeding, and how might this give greater control to farmers and breeders over what seeds they can use? How can alternative breeding programs be developed in the current US and international agri-food system?
Our panelists, Kevin Murphy, Mathew Dillon, and Charlie Brummer, are all experts on seed development and will bring their different backgrounds to probe these questions.

Panelist Bios:

Kevin Murphy is an Assistant Professor of Plant Breeding in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Washington State University. Prior to graduate school, Kevin spent seven years working on and managing farms in Arkansas, Michigan and in Washington. He received his B.S. in Biology from Colorado College, and his M.S. in Crop Science and Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Washington State University. His primary focus crops are barley and quinoa, but his research also extends to a diversity of specialty crops, including amaranth, proso millet, spelt, hops, buckwheat and the Andean tubers oca and ulluco. His program emphasizes farmer participation in the selection process to complement ongoing breeder selection on research stations and in the lab using molecular markers. Kevin recently completed a Fulbright Specialist project where he worked with rice farmer-breeders in the Philippines.

Matthew Dillon manages agricultural policy and programs at Clif Bar & Company, a leading maker of nutritious and organic foods and drinks for people on-the-go. He also is director of Seed Matters, an initiative of the Clif Bar Family Foundation to improve organic seed systems. In his role as senior manager for agricultural policy and programs, Matthew serves as the company’s liaison with state and federal officials on organic policy issues. He also works with leaders in the organic industry, non-governmental organizations and academia. At Seed Matters, Matthew directs an effort to support projects that conserve crop diversity, protect farmers’ roles as seed innovators, and reinvigorate public seed research. ‘Matthew has held diverse roles in the organic agriculture field since 1982, including farmer, non-profit advocate and consultant to organic food companies. Prior to joining Clif Bar and Seed Matters he was founding director of Organic Seed Alliance. There he launched the nation’s first organic plant breeding research and seed production education programs. In 2012 he was appointed to serve on the USDA National Genetic Resource Advisory Council, advising the Secretary of Agriculture on strategies for maintaining agricultural plant diversity and strengthening public sector plant breeding.

Charlie Brummer will become the Director of the Center for Plant Breeding at the University of California-Davis in April. He is currently the Director of the Forage Improvement Division at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK. His research on forage crop breeding, genetics, and genomics specifically focuses on alfalfa, tall fescue, and switchgrass. He received his B.S. degree from the Pennsylvania State University and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Georgia. Previously, he was on the faculty at Iowa State University and the University of Georgia as the forage and bioenergy crop breeder. His program focuses on practical cultivar development, germplasm evaluation and incorporation, breeding methodology improvement, and application of genetic markers into forage breeding. He currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Crop Science Society of America and as President of the North American Alfalfa Improvement Conference.

Moderated by Liz Carlisle, PhD Candidate, Geography, UC Berkeley


foodinstitute@berkeley.edu