Meet the Board - Rollie Sears

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Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Rollin Sears is celebrating his 50th year as a wheat breeder in 2019. From working on his family’s farm as a boy to working alongside some of the best wheat breeders in the world, Rollie’s journey through agriculture has been exciting to say the least.

Rollie studied at Montana State University (MSU) and Oregon State University (OSU). Upon completion of his bachelor’s degree, Sears had job offers from Food Machinery and Chemical Corp (FMC) and Campbells Soup. “My wife had started as a new teacher in the Bozeman school district, and we decided to stay in Bozeman,” said Rollie, “I was working for a forage breeder, and he offered me an assistantship [at MSU], and so I stayed on and got my master’s degree under his leadership.”

In 1974, Rollie moved to Corvallis, Oregon to pursue his Ph.D. in Plant Genetics at OSU. “That’s where I met Fred Cholick, and we became friends and have been close ever since,” said Rollie, “It was also where I met Dr. Borlaug, and hence got involved in the CIMMYT Wheat Breeding Program.” Oregon State University had a grant with CIMMYT, thus scientists such as Norman Borlaug, Sanjaya Rajaram, and Glenn Anderson came to visit OSU and look at their material. Rollie, then a budding breeder, was granted the task of picking up Dr. Borlaug from the Portland airport and driving four hours to the wheat nursery in Pendleton, OR.

“Three or four times a year, I had about an 8-hour trip with Dr. Borlaug,” said Rollie, “We talked about everything: what projects he was working on, politics, plant breeding, world hunger, all kinds of stuff. It was a great way to really get to know him.”

From there, Rollie became a professor in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University and taught from 1980 to 1999. Following his career as an educator, Rollie excelled as the Senior Research Fellow and Senior Manager at AgriPro/Syngenta and retired in 2015. Like any scientist of his caliber, one never truly retires. Today, Rollie serves as an active board member on the Borlaug Training Foundation and is the President of Prairie View Genetics.

Rollie’s arsenal of awards is vast, including:

·         Kansas Farm Bureau’s Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award

·         The Kansas Association of Wheat Growers Wheat Man of the Year Award

·         Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award from Kansas State University

·         The American Society of Agronomy Agronomic Research Award

·         The 2007 Oregon State University Distinguished Service Award

·         Oregon State University School of Agriculture Alumni Legacy Award

Awards aside, Rollie has developed widely accepted cultivars of wheat throughout his breeding career, including the 25-year running ‘Jagger’ variety. Rollie’s research has been welcomed in countries all around the world, and his impacts are still being felt to this day.

“Serving on the board of the Borlaug Training Foundation is a way for me to give back,” said Rollie, “I know the importance of education, and I know the importance of learning how to be an effective plant breeder in the field, which is what the BTF endorses. I feel indebted to Dr. Borlaug in my career, so for me, it’s a win-win to be involved.”

Jennifer NelsonComment