You might call Laura Maupin a quick study. It was just four years ago that her career changed directions from a soybean breeding pathway to carrot breeding. And now, the Seminis carrot breeder is on the cusp of a career milestone: commercializing her first three carrot hybrids. She credits collaboration within the company and the industry for much of this early success.
Prior to earning a Ph.D. in plant breeding from Virginia Tech, Maupin had grown up in the Midwest where corn and soybeans are predominant crops. With work experience in corn and soybeans also on her resume, she had never thought about working in carrots.
That changed when she was asked to interview for a carrot breeding position available at Seminis’ U.S. carrot breeding site in Payette, Idaho. While interviewing at the parent company’s vegetable R&D headquarters (Monsanto) in Woodland, California, she found carrots to be relatable as a vegetable so commonly consumed and used in cooking.
“I just thought carrots seemed so amazing and so exciting,” Maupin recalls. “After interviewing for a day and a half, I ended up calling back home to my husband and said, ‘Hey, how about moving to Idaho? I really want to be a carrot breeder.’”
Maupin is honored to be part of such a small community. There are only about a half dozen carrot breeders in the country, and Maupin is the sole carrot breeder working for Seminis in the U.S.; the company employs four carrot breeders globally. The Seminis team meets regularly to discuss research objectives and share germplasm. Maupin has benefitted from being able to reach out to talented co-workers including a research associate with almost 20 years of experience in the program, as well as customers, growers and consumers.
“Internally, we have a really strong team,” Maupin says. “I have been able to collaborate with people within the company and learn, and now work together as a team to make decisions and advancements to improve carrot hybrids.”
When Maupin joined the Seminis team, she inherited a breeding program with material in every stage of the pipeline. This enabled her to access parental lines developed by her predecessor, form new combinations and find hybrids with traits that can be successful – all in a relatively short amount of time.
“The really exciting thing is that in the time that I’ve been here, we have Bringing New Hybrids to Market
advanced three hybrids to a point that they are on the cusp of commercialization, that within the next couple of years they will be commercially available,” Maupin reports. “Being able to see a hybrid of mine out in the field is really exciting.”
Among these hybrids is a cut-and-peel carrot known as SV2765DC. Its excellent length and shape are improvements over current commercial material, Maupin says. In addition, it is very smooth, which makes it easier to peel in processing, and is also very uniform. Interestingly, data collected in the last few years showed the hybrid to contain fewer terpenes than any of the company’s other commercial material in the cut-and-peel category. This should translate to improved flavor.
“When I look at our portfolio, we have fairly good length, and I’m always trying to maintain that. Now I want to add some of these other traits; improved flavor and smoothness are things that I’m trying to push into the program,” Maupin explains.
Maupin’s additional new hybrids, SV4128DL and SV2214DL, are both prime candidates for the California cello market, according to the breeder. Both have good shape and size for the fresh market, as well as very healthy foliage, she describes. However, SV2214DL is more of a true cello carrot, whereas SV4128DL can be grown for the cello or jumbo markets, depending on the planting density. Maupin says customers are looking for a versatile carrot that can bulk up a little as needed, or remain smaller if that’s the desired outcome.
These hybrids were included in University of California (UC) trials in January and the UC-USDA trial in March. So far, data from small plot trials has been positive. Seminis is working to increase seed production so the hybrids can be evaluated in larger trials in the future.
Maupin is also continuing to work on other hybrids from developmental crosses and parental lines that she started on her own, a process that takes about 10 years.
“We’re really working to improve carrots for growers and for our customers. We’re combining genetics and then making evaluations and using data to make decisions in which you find materials that are better than what you had in the past,” Maupin says.
Specifically, she is working to develop an improved root shape to increase yield. This may prove particularly beneficial to growers in drought-stricken areas such as California, where longer carrots could be used to produce more marketable yield on fewer acres.
Maupin is also trying to improve disease resistance in carrots. This is a high priority, especially in light of increasing restrictions on the use of nematicides and fumigants.
“It’s a challenge to the breeder to be able to provide germplasm that has resistance to the pests that can no longer be controlled. We’re working really hard in the developmental pipeline to work on resistance to nematodes and resistance for cavity spot. I think that’s a really big challenge, and it’s going to become more and more important,” Maupin says.
Disease resistance in carrots is a long-term goal in Maupin’s program, but she adds that she has been fortunate to collaborate with the USDA to access germplasm with resistance. She is working to get that into her program’s germplasm in order to be able to provide materials with resistance.
Looking ahead, Maupin expects to see technology spur exciting improvements in carrots that will benefit growers and others in the industry.
“I think historically and currently, carrot breeding is based in traditional breeding methods. I think we will benefit from the new molecular technologies that are coming along, especially with the publication of the carrot genome sequence” Maupin says. “With the generation of that data, molecular breeding technologies will likely guide breeding decisions in carrots. I think that’s really the future.”
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