ARDMORE — The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation has named the new head of the organization's small grains breeding program.
Mark Newell is only the fifth person to lead that program in 60 years.
Newell, who joined the foundation earlier this year, will focus on improving two species — rye and oats — which are used by regional producers only for grazing.
“Ranchers depend on small grains for cattle production from September through May,” Newell said in a news release. “So providing varieties with improved performance can have a significant impact.”
Newell was working on a degree in forest biology at Colorado State University when a professor introduced him to plant breeding. He ended up getting a master's degree in dry beans breeding from the university before focusing on small grains during doctoral research at Iowa State University.
His studies used molecular data and traditional plant breeding techniques to select superior plants, according to the release. He graduated in 2011 and was hired by the Noble Foundation.
“Mark's background and research was a nice fit, especially when you look at how we use both genetic and traditional breeding methods,” said Charles Brummer, director of the Forage Improvement Division, in the release. “We are confident in his ability to write the next chapter in our storied small grains breeding program, which released its first variety to the public in 1956.”
Newell will try to improve rye and oats so they can be used as forage plants, something few breeders have attempted in the past.
“Not many organizations have such a rich legacy with small grains,” he said in the release. “This is a tremendous opportunity, and I'm thrilled to be conducting such important work.”