Dr. Bunyamin Tar'an (PhD)
Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program (SRP) Chair in Chickpea and Flax Breeding and Genetics
BRINGING ACADEMIC IDEAS TO REAL WORLD ECONOMIES
(by Ashleigh Mattern)
One of the things Professor Bunyamin Tar’an finds most exciting about working at the Crop Development Centre is that he is training future plant breeders. He likes to pass on his knowledge to the next generation, knowing that when he retires, there will be others to continue his work.
“What we’re doing is different than the breeding programs in the private industry because we are academic — we also advise undergraduate students, masters students, and Ph.D. students doing research,” he said.
Tar’an is a chickpea and flax breeder. He’s originally from South Sumatra, Indonesia, and he came to Canada to do his MSc and Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Teaching genetics and biotechnology to undergraduate students, he says sometimes their reaction is that it’s a scary topic because they think it’s going to be hard.
“Science is fun,” he said. “This is the thing that we need to communicate for younger generations. Breeding is fun. You have the opportunity to learn from the genetic makeup into the actual crop performance in the field and making that connection.”
He said he likes applying the knowledge of genetics and statistics to make crop improvements that can be seen in the field. Plant breeding allows him to see the full spectrum of the plant, from the DNA to how the plant grows in the field to the impact on humans.
“This is all part of the breeding,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are also looking at the economy. How will this help the economy overall?”
HELPING THE FARMER’S BOTTOM LINE
Tar’an’s work focuses on breeding and genetics, and on improving the crops to become a commodity that’s profitable for farmers in western Canada, researching the best ways to manage the crops so they’re successful and profitable.
Since he joined the Crop Development Centre in 2006, his program has released 13 chickpea varieties for growers in western Canada, and now 90 per cent of the chickpea varieties grown in western Canada are from the CDC.
Before these varieties were released, there were some chickpeas being grown in the province, but they were older varieties, some introduced from other countries, that were more susceptible to disease.
The problem of disease in chickpea is still evolving. One of the major challenges today is ascochyta blight, an aggressive fungal disease. In Saskatchewan, summers are cool and there’s just enough rain to make it an environment conducive to this fungus.
“Chickpeas are traditionally grown in warm and dry areas from Turkey to the Mediterranean region, where it’s well adapted,” Tar’an said. Chickpeas are also a long season crop, so maturity is another objective of the breeding program to make the plant better suited to Canada’s short growing season.
Disease resistance is also important to the farmer’s bottom line: A crop that only needs to be sprayed twice a season costs less to produce than one that requires four to five applications.
THE ONLY FLAX BREEDING PROGRAM IN CANADA
Since spring 2021, he has also started working on flax. He was the interim leader of flax breeding and research program after the former leader’s departure. It’s the only flax breeding program in Canada as other such programs have closed down.
“Flax is lagged behind with other oil, compared to canola, but flax still provides the advantage of being a healthy oil and has a little less input cost than canola because flax is self pollinating and doesn’t have the problem of clubroot,” Tar’an said. It provides a healthy oil, rich in alpha-Linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.
His program will continue to increase the yield of flax, ease of straw management, and maintain the oil profile to address the need in the market for a healthy oil and other industrial applications. His team is also aiming to lower the amount of cadmium, a metal that tends to accumulate in flax. European markets in particular are looking for flax with less cadmium.
Whether working on improving flax or chickpeas, Tar’an’s focus is on bettering Saskatchewan, western Canada, and even the whole country, he said. “When we produce the best products available to the world … we help the economy and the environment.”