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“Edgar S. McFadden – A life of contribution to wheat improvement” - Kevin Kephart

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 12:20pm

Emerson Hall, 135

Kevin D. Kephart, Ph.D.
Head of University Relations, Indigo Ag., Inc.
Emeritus VP for Research and Economic Development, South Dakota State University

With a background in federal and state agriculture policy, technology transfer, and R&D, Kevin takes the lead in facilitating scientific communications for Indigo. Most recently, he was Vice President for Research and Economic Development at South Dakota State University (SDSU), managing a $70 million research portfolio and rolling out innovative programs such as the Sun Grant Initiative — a national network of land-grant universities and federally funded research facilities collectively striving for a renewable energy and biofuel-based economy. The Initiative, which Kevin conceived, was incorporated into the 2014 Farm Bill.

Over the course of his thirty years at SDSU, Kevin stepped into a variety of other leadership roles, fostering strong organizational growth through the expansion of strategic partnerships in fields such as crop breeding and genetics, biotechnology, human nutrition and the microbiome, and precision agriculture. He also spearheaded SDSU’s intellectual property portfolio and augmented the university’s well-recognized work in wheat R&D through new partnerships with agriculture technology companies, conservation groups, and grower organizations.

Prior to his promotion to the vice presidency at SDSU, Kevin served as Director of the affiliated South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station where he led the university’s state-wide ag research program. Recently he served as co-chair of the Technical Advisory Committee of the USDA/DOE Biomass R&D Initiative, one of numerous board positions he has held in the past.

Kevin earned a BS in Agricultural Sciences from Montana State University, an MS in Agronomy from the University of Wyoming, and a PhD in Crop Production and Physiology from Iowa State University.

Abstract: Many people regard the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Agriculture Program (MAP) as the impetus of the Green Revolution.  Key figures in the MAP included Drs. J. George Harrar, Edwin Wellhausen, William Colwell, John Niederhauser, Richard Bradfield, Paul Mangelsdorf, and Norman Borlaug.  Another key contributor was Dr. Elvin Stakman, professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota and academic advisor to Harrar and Borlaug.  Inasmuch that the MAP advanced agricultural production, their work was enabled by scientists during the decades prior to the 1940s.  Among the earlier scientists was Edgar S. McFadden, the son of Irish-Americans from Lisbon, NY.  A century ago wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici) was carried by the winds and threatened wheat crops from Mexico to the Canadian prairies.  Stem rust infestations caused lost farm income, declined rural communities, and hunger.  As an undergraduate at South Dakota State University in 1916, Edgar McFadden successfully crossed ‘Marquis’ hard red spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) with Yaroslav emmer (Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum) to achieve the first major breakthrough in conferring genetic resistance to stem rust in common wheat.  From a single progeny seed he developed a spring wheat variety that was immune to stem rust.  Aptly, he named it ‘Hope’.  Hope wheat was the first successful mating between common wheat and an ancestral wheat species, an accomplishment that most scientists of the time believed was impossible.  Stakman was a key collaborator with McFadden during this time.  The release of Hope set the stage for greater wheat production during World War II, the recovery years afterward, and the Green Revolution.  After graduating in 1918 from South Dakota State with a B.S. degree in Agriculture, McFadden began a career as a plant breeder with the USDA Bureau of Plant Industry and later became a colleague of Borlaug’s during the Rockefeller Foundation’s MAP from 1944 to 1955.  Hope wheat was one of two key germplasm sources of resistance to stem rust for wheat varieties developed by the MAP.  Today, we understand that Hope carried the Sr2 gene complex and is still considered to be an essential source of resistance to contemporary strains of stem rust, such as Ug99.

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Plant Breeding and Genetics, Sustainability


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Tara Reed

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Kevin Kephart

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Indigo Ag. Inc

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