By: Kay Ledbetter
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has hired Fernando Guillen, Ph.D., as the new statewide small grains and oilseed crops specialist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University. He officially started March 1.
“Dr. Guillen brings a wealth of agronomic experience to AgriLife Extension’s small grains program, and we are excited to have him joining our department and extension unit,” said Larry Redmon, Ph.D., associate department head and AgriLife Extension program leader for the department.
Guillen brings experience
Coming to Texas from Bozeman, Montana, Guillen was a private consultant and a research associate at Montana State University. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and his bachelor’s degree from the Juan Misael Saracho Bolivian University in Bolivia. He also was a postdoctoral research scientist at the Northwestern Agricultural Research Center for Montana State University, Kalispell, Montana.
His past research relates to the development and application of new ways to better understand relative changes in cultivar productivity as a result of varying growing conditions in a target region, also known as genotype-by-environment interactions.
Also, Guillen said he includes using innovative crop management protocols to increase crop productivity in his research. Examples would be the use of integrated pest management strategies for weed control and the use of micronutrients as yield enhancers in wheat.
Guillen’s plant breeding activities include developing varieties in corn and wheat, as well as grain amaranth and camelina crops. Most recently, he led the camelina breeding program at Sustainable Oils LLC for the development of superior cultivars to be used as a feedstock for biofuel production. He also worked with their wheat tilling research program at Targeted Growth Inc., which was aimed at identifying specific, proprietary mutation-altered genes with a positive impact in yield.
Guillen’s plans for Texas position
“I believe the Texas small grains specialist position is a strong match between the position’s objectives and my professional background,” Guillen said. “Even before applying for this position, I knew the small grains breeding program at Texas A&M was doing a superb job in the development of superior cultivars in small grains, mainly wheat, for the different wheat growing regions in Texas.
“From a genetic perspective, I was glad to see that the small grains breeding program is already implementing state-of-the-art strategies like the use of gene-editing tools with the ultimate goal of yield enhancement,” he said.
Guillen said it is well recognized that increases in crop productivity arise from the use of both superior genetics and the adoption of optimum crop management protocols for commercial production.
“Thus, my interest falls into defining and using crop management protocols that allow the maximization of productivity of elite wheat cultivars developed for Texas, which in essence consists in closing the gap between the yield potential of a cultivar under optimum growing conditions and the observed yield of a cultivar at the farm level,” he said.
AgriLife Extension outreach needed
“This will require a precise measure of the observed yield gap in the target regions,” he said. “It also requires identifying the major underlying factors explaining the gap, adopting crop management protocols conducive to directly or indirectly reducing the gap, and effectively transferring the technology to the farm.”
To accomplish this, the involvement of agronomists, specialists, plant breeders, soil scientists, plant pathologists, weed scientists and economists is needed, which can be seen as a challenge, he said. “But I prefer to see it as a unique opportunity instead.”
The bottom line is it is one thing to know what is required and another to get the farmers to use it, Guillen said.
“That requires a transfer of technology, and that is where AgriLife Extension is important,” he said.
Other grains and oilseeds
Guillen said his focus will not be on wheat alone. He will work with oats, barley and other small grains as well as oilseed crops such as camelina and canola.
“I have a lot of experience in camelina and collaborated on it with Dr. Gaylon Morgan here in Texas in the past,” he said. “I will try to reintroduce it in those areas where we believe there is potential and also work with canola if the opportunity arises.”
Guillen said when he first started working with camelina in Montana, no one knew anything about the crop, “so we had to show farmers how to grow it through Extension practices. I plan to use that same Extension networking to work with all the important crops here in Texas.”