People

Portrait

Brigitta Schmiedchen

Growing together

Brigitta Schmiedchen was already a breeder in Petkus when KWS acquired the location in 1991 following German reunification. That resulted in the task of reuniting the breeding material that had been separated as a result of Germany’s partition and further developed.

Brigitta Schmiedchen has been working at Petkus, our location that boasts a long and rich rye breeding tradition, for almost 40 years.

After Ferdinand von Lochow had left his mark on rye breeding in 1881 in Petkus, Brandenburg, south of Berlin, Brigitta Schmiedchen embarked on her professional career just about 100 years later at this historic location. “That came about more by chance in 1983,” she says looking back. Actually, Brigitta Schmiedchen would have liked to become a pharmacist. In the former GDR, however, her path was mapped out due to her farming background, and she began to study agriculture.

Her interest continued to be chemistry – even if the focus was now no longer on medicine, but on plant protection. “In the central job placement agency in the GDR at the time, however, I was unable to find a job as a person responsible for plant protection after graduating.” This profession existed in agricultural companies as well as at farms. “I was then advised to go into plant breeding.” She found a job at the Institute for Cereals Breeding – Ferdinand von Lochow’s former company, which had since been nationalized.

Reunited seed

A year after the reunification of West and East Germany, KWS reacquired the former company headquarters in Petkus – and an exciting time began for Brigitta Schmiedchen at her new employer. “Of course, we didn’t want to betray the trust placed in us employees. We wanted to further develop the breeding activities in Petkus under the new circumstances.”

After all, political reunification also brought about a reunification of breeding material that had had the same origin up to the end of the Second World War, but had followed different paths during the years of Germany’s division into two. “Intensive selection and recombination in the breeding material had led to more and new variability.”

Brigitta Schmiedchen’s task after 1991 was to test the performance of the breeding material and describe special traits that determined its value. “We wanted to hone the focus on resistance breeding, which was very well established here at Petkus with its sandy soils and aridity, and deliver resistant starting material for the rye breeding program. We were thus able to improve our breeding program performance-wise and also used this genetic material to develop many new lines that are the basis for new hybrids.”

Resistance breeding

„A model location for climate change“

Soils with few nutrients and high aridity: Petkus has always been suitable for breeding rye because the crop can also survive in adverse conditions. Breeder Jakob Eifler explains in the video why that helps us achieve our sustainability goals. |

Focus on yield and resistances

Even thirty years on, there are always new challenges. “We now have a second breeder in Petkus,” says Brigitta, who hails from Brandenburg. She and Jakob Eifler search for new traits that support their breeding objectives. Jakob Eifler is primarily concerned with stress factors and resistances, while she is responsible for increasing yields. “Only through close dialogue with each other can we find new traits to achieve our breeding objectives. We also use material from gene banks as genetic resources and see how we can identify good top performers.”

Even though it was more by chance that she ended up in plant breeding 39 years ago and later at KWS, she says: “Looking back, I was very lucky and I’m happy with how things have turned out. My tutor said you had to change companies after ten years to be able to think creatively again. But my workplace offers such a diversity of tasks and challenges that it’s exciting to work on them and to keep on being involved in a breeding process and bring it to a successful conclusion.”

More information is supplied using new biotechnological processes, giving added precision to her work and resulting in greater performance and progress. In this connection, Brigitta Schmiedchen appreciates the dialogue among stations and researchers at KWS. “We don’t work in isolation, but are networked across all areas, whether that is in the technical field or in science and research.”

Teamwork: Breeder Jakob Eifler has been responsible for resistance breeding since 2017, and Brigitta Schmiedchen for yield.

Rye: small crop with great importance

The breeder describes rye itself as a small cereal. “The market is relatively small. We breed for the entire Rye Belt,” an area covering Germany, Northern and Eastern Europe, Russia and Canada, as well as China. It would not make financial sense to establish a separate breeding program for each region. The goal is for our varieties to perform well elsewhere, too. “We’ve established tests to be able to assess stress factors for other locations from here as well.”

Despite the niche market, rye grown for grain and biomass production has a high priority in KWS’ portfolio – because KWS has been exclusively breeding hybrid rye varieties since 2006. |


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