Late last year, Plant and Food Research farewelled cereal breeder Dr Bill Griffin, who retired after a 42 year career in the wheat breeding industry. Bill has worked closely with Luisetti Seeds and has been a real asset to our wheat breeding partnership over the last 25 years. He has brought value not only to our company but to the entire New Zealand industry.
After completing an honours degree at Canterbury University in Botany and Zoology in 1975, Bill was offered a position at DSIR (Crop Research Division). Bill worked for DSIR for three years until mid-1979. when he was offered a fully funded scholarship from the New Zealand government to study abroad. Bill decided to focus his PhD on Barley and undertook this research at Cambridge University. For three years Bill worked at the Cambridge Plant Breeding Institute under the tutorship of John Bingham.
With a PhD under his belt, Dr Bill returned to his job at DSIR in Palmerston North to focus on wheat breeding.
When asked what drew him towards wheat breeding, Bill explained that the breeding fascination came first when he was studying applied evolution and genetics. He liked the fact that we are what our genes say we are, combined with interaction from the environment. Bill’s specific interest and focus became understanding the breeding process and he found wheat breeding to be the most fascinating.
Throughout his career, Bill was responsible for eight initial wheat breeding crosses. This included Regency wheat, which was the first big wheat cross Bill completed as part of the joint venture partnership with Luisetti Seeds. Luisetti Seeds were the seed production company and the ultimate licensee of Regency.
After evaluating the cultivar together with Plant and Food Research, Luisetti Seeds commercialised the cultivar into the New Zealand milling wheat industry at a time when the industry was desperate for a cultivar that offered better yields, improved disease, sprouting resistance and flour milling ability.
Bill continued with Plant and Food Research his whole working life, however, he wasn’t always a wheat breeder, so he was kept challenged. After a restructure in the 90’s, Bill’s role was expanded to include all cereals with a focus on administration, and by the end of the 1990’s, he was in charge of the administration of Crop and Food Research Ltd.
(The DSIR split into Crop and Food Research and AgResearch in 1992). This included the day to day running of all crop breeding efforts including peas, potatoes, onions and asparagus, with all staff reporting to Bill.
In 2008, Crop and Food merged with Hort Research, which looked after horticultural crops (apple, kiwi fruit, hops etc.) and became Plant and Food Research with 1000 staff and headquarters in Auckland. Bill based himself at Lincoln whilst managing the Plant and Food breeding portfolio across New Zealand.
This was a challenge for Bill because he had to look after perennial crops, which were different to the cereals he was used to! Travel also became a large part of Bill’s role, especially to orchards in the North Island and to visit the staff that were based in 13 different locations across the country.
After 42 years of breeding and working for Plant and Food, Bill is thoroughly looking forward to his retirement. Bill is still fit and strong and has a desire to travel around New Zealand during the summer, now that his summers aren’t the busy season!
He also wants to spend a large chunk of his winters in the northern hemisphere.
Bill’s other passion is music, particularly Bob Dylan. When Bob Dylan has toured New Zealand in the past, Bill attended every concert at every venue. His two passions, music and breeding have somewhat intertwined in a twist of fate! Since starting in 1976, Bill has been associated with breeding 106 cultivars himself and alongside other breeders. He also has exactly 106 Bob Dylan albums in his home!
Bill has dedicated his working life to the agricultural industry in New Zealand. Luisetti Seeds have been very fortunate to be closely involved with Bill for over 25 years. He has provided Luisetti Seeds and the New Zealand arable industry with ground breaking cereal cultivars and has been an inspiration, mentor and friend to our company.