We are proud to share that not one but two of our Plennegy Plant Breeders have been included on the list of Top Twenty of the most influential plant breeders in Africa! Cobus Swanepoel and Richard Lubbe were awarded their certificates at the South African Plant Breeders Association (SAPBA) symposium held in March this year.
The SAPBA special project was started in 2020, when the plant breeding community of Southern Africa was asked to nominate plant breeders whose influence has shaped plant breeding across Africa. It was decided to nominate 20 breeders as it was 2020. Nominations had to highlight why that particular breeder should be included on the SAPBA Top Twenty list - focusing on explaining the influence his or her key contributions have made in the plant breeding sector – not only in Africa but throughout the world.
Four Plennegy breeders were nominated - Theo Bekker, Charl Craig, Richard Lubbe and Cobus Swanepoel, with Richard and Cobus making it to the final Top Twenty breeders list. Whilst this was announced and communicated to all SAPBA members in November 2020 already, the Top Twenty Breeders only received their certificates at the 2022 SAPBA symposium held in Stellenbosch in March, as the symposium is only held every few years.
The certificates were handed out during an evening function, filled with good advice, life lessons and breeding tips to the younger generation of plant breeders by the Top Twenty who were able to attend. The rest of the evening was an opportunity for the senior plant breeders to interact on a more informal, social level with younger plant breeders and plant breeding students - to share some wise words, some pearls of wisdom and no doubt, some Stellenbosch wine.
The Plennegy Group is immensely proud of the vital role that our plant breeders play in ensuring that we fulfil our purpose – to grow food and service those who grow food, in order to feed and nourish the continent and beyond.
In 1996 Cobus Swanepoel took his first steps on his journey as a plant breeder when he graduated from the University of Pretoria with a BSc (Agric) Degree in Genetics and Plant Breeding, cum laude none-the-less. This was followed up with a BSc (Agric) Honours in Genetics and Plant Breeding from the University of Pretoria in 2001, again cum laude.
In 2003 he received his MSc (Agric) in Plant Breeding from the University of the Free State, where he is also currently busy with his PhD. In 1997 he started as a plant breeder at the ARC - Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops. Here he was responsible for developing and screening of improved mango cultivars for the release to the international industry. Responsibilities also included the screening of imported macadamia cultivars under different South African climatic conditions for recommendation to the local industry.
In 1999 he was appointed as Cucurbit breeder in Greytown to manage an existing programme on Cucurbita maxima owned by Pannar (Pty) Ltd, and later Plennegy (Pty) Ltd. The focus was mainly on the white, grey and hubbard types for the South African and Australian markets. The expansion of the programme resulted in two additional hybrid programmes on Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita moschata.
In later years, his focus shifted toward the younger programmes accompanied by a relocation to Gauteng in 2005. The programmes are still fairly young, but highly successful based on the amount of varieties released. Various competitive zucchini, gem, scallop, butternut and tropical pumpkin varieties have been released into the South African-, African-, Australian-, European-, Asian- and North- and South American markets. To date, he has released 11 Cucurbita pepo varieties of which the gem squash Pinnacle is the predominant variety in the South African market. He also released one tropical pumpkin that is commercial in Australia. He also released seven butternut varieties. Most of these varieties are sold both locally and in selected international markets.
He was also involved in the Plennegy (Pty) Ltd green bean breeding programme from 2008-2012, where the focus was mainly on resistance-breeding against rust and halo blight, without compromising pod quality. Cobus’s eye for detail is legendary. He is hard-working and innovative, and he will take any new breeding tool or technique by the horns until he has mastered it completely. Cobus often acts as a mentor for young breeders or bursary students and many young plant breeders have profited from his vast knowledge, which he shares readily. [Postscript: Since the time of the nomination having been submitted, Cobus completed his PhD through the university of the Free State in 2022.]
Richard Lubbe didn’t plan to become a plant breeder. He has however always been a nature lover and outdoorsman. His love of plants prompted him to study BSc Botany and Genetics at the University of Pretoria (UP) from 1990 to 1996. He completed his MSc through UP on vegetation and flora of the Kosi Bay Coastal Forest Reserve. From 1997-2003 Richard worked for the Department of Agriculture as a Senior Agricultural Product technician, where he planted and evaluated trials for registration and variety listing. It is here that he was first introduced to vegetable crops. It was only in 2003, when he and his family moved to Greytown, that his breeding career kicked off.
Richard has been at the head of the pumpkin breeding programme at Starke Ayres for the past 17 years. During this period, he has released 6 cultivars. He has steered the programme towards breeding for the consumer with a focus on cavity-size reduction, taste, shelf-life and disease resistance. Richard’s success in breeding for ZYMV resistance has earned him international recognition – where a cultivar of his (Invincible) has proven superior compared to opposition varieties. Attesting to his directed focus on producing an improved end-product, his varieties are currently planted worldwide and dominate the South African market.
Richard always strives to use improved breeding tools to facilitate breeding. Through his advocating for the use of molecular markers in our breeding effort, the development of pure lines has accelerated and this in turn has revolutionised our approach and increased our productivity. He values the importance of being in the field and monitoring his plants and sees it as crucial to the success of a breeding programme.
Richard has the ability to correctly predict how the market develops. This is necessary when you are developing a product that will only have to compete in the next 8-10 years. He is a compassionate leader who acknowledges the contribution of those around him and regards his team as his family. He creates an environment that is safe for development and expression. He has impacted all who have worked with him in a positive way.
Today Richard is the Breeding programme manager for pumpkin at Plennegy / Starke Ayres. He is a humble person, who lives in Greytown with his wife and two children, enjoys hunting and fishing as often as he can and rides his bicycle to work every morning – weather permitting.