MEET OUR SCIENTISTS
Jennifer Riggs: The Seed Booster
A seed harbors all of a plant’s genetic potential – but sometimes it needs a little help as it begins growing. Jennifer Riggs develops seed protectants to give seeds and seedlings a chance to flourish in the face of environmental threats.
Plants are like kids, like all living things. They thrive best when they get a good head start early in life.
Who would have thought that I would end up in agriculture? Yes, as I was growing up, my family had a weekend ranch. And my dad loved growing things; we even had some cattle. That was fine as a child – but I hated going there as a teenager. Every weekend, it felt like we were ‘dragged’ back to that piece of land. When I went off to college, I remember thinking, ‘I will never be on a farm again.’ But farming gets into your blood.
I ended up with a PhD in plant pathology, specializing in soil pests that affect the seed or seedlings. Today, my research involves developing protective coatings for seeds, so they mount a better defense against various pests or abiotic stresses such as drought, heat, cold and unfavorable pH or mineral content of the soil. The treatments of seed have a lot of positives. For example, as we develop agricultural crops, we focus on certain characteristics: a bigger cob of corn, a tastier tomato or cotton with longer fibers. But a seed has only so much energy in it. When we channel a seed’s energy to create or manipulate desired traits, the change in structure saps some of the energy resources that the plant needs to protect itself. Seed treatments give some of that protection back.
Marrying Chemicals and Biologics
Take corn. Much of a corn plant’s yield potential is established in the time between germination and the first six weeks of growth. Plants are like kids and like all living things; they thrive best when they get a good head start early in life.
I think of seed treatment as the most environmentally-friendly pesticide application. It puts a relatively small amount of the active substance into the environment. Instead of spraying an entire field with a chemical, we apply the protectant exactly where it’s needed, and when it’s needed most. Farmers get the treated seed in a bag and often never touch it. For pollinators and other living organisms, there’s no safer way to treat crops.
One aspect of my work which I’m especially proud of is working with life cycle management (LCM) of top SeedGrowth products. After exploring many options for a LCM project, I was able to be a part of combining a chemical with a biological component and guiding the development from lab bench to commercialization. This LCM endeavor extended commercial life of a lead product in North America for an additional 7+ years. Its success has opened the door for many more products incorporating biologics.
Teaching, Supporting and Growing
All technology needs to be used correctly, of course. A big part of my job involves educating farmers, as well as training companies that apply our protectants and sell the treated seeds. I participate in large trade shows, where I explain the benefits of the product. And I also have opportunities to work one-on-one with farmers. Teaching has always been a passion of mine. It comes naturally to me.
I also teach in my free time. As a volunteer at the Red Cross, I work with military families. I educate them about help the Red Cross can provide when a loved one gets deployed, and if the worst should happen. And then there’s my little garden patch at my townhouse. I actually enjoy growing vegetables, just like my father and grandfather did. No cattle, though.
CV: Jennifer Riggs
1957 Born in San Antonio, Texas, USA
1979 Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, Texas A&M University
1986 Master of Science in Plant Protection, Texas A&M University
1993 PhD in Plant Pathology, Texas A&M University
1993-1995 Assist. Professor of Plant Pathology, New Mexico State University
1999-2005 : Manager, Gustafson Seed Technology Center, Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina
2005-2007 Manager, Bayer Seed Growth Technology Center, RTP
2007-current Manager, Product Development Seed Treatment, RTP
2017 Received Bayer Science Fellow award
Currently Member of American Phytopathology Society and Mentor of Young Scholars