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Visionary seed pioneer becomes Professor at Aarhus University

Birte Boelt is appointed as a professor in seed production and technology at the Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Her professional journey has been marked by dedication and a deep love for nature, which has been with her since childhood.

Photo: AU Foto

Birte Boelt's fascination with the natural world and the complexity of plant life began early in her life.

"I have always been interested in nature and collected seeds from the plants in the garden. I think I've been doing it since I was little," she says.

It was also her interest in plants that led her to choose agronomy as her field of study. Here, she could combine her love for nature with a production-oriented approach, focusing on food products.

A journey into the world of seeds

Her journey towards what would become her future career in seed research took a more defined form when she, as a volunteer at the agricultural association in Øster Toreby, Nykøbing Falster, encountered the complex world of seed growers. Here, she observed that seed growers often disagreed on cultivation, especially methods for treating white clover.

"I found it fascinating that such skilled people could be so divided. It opened my eyes to the fact that cultivating seeds was not as simple as it seemed."

Her work as a volunteer led to a thesis on the seed production of white clover. This sparked her interest in seed science, and Birte Boelt obtained a Ph.D. position at what would later become Aarhus University's research center in Flakkebjerg near Slagelse. During her Ph.D. and the years that followed, Birte Boelt worked diligently to establish herself as a respected researcher, dedicating her time to uncovering the complex challenges of seed crops.

"In the beginning, I worked on establishing seed crops and creating robust plants. Later, there was a long period of studying how seed yield could be increased, including the use of growth regulators. Currently, the major challenge is how to maintain a high yield with good seed quality while minimising the use of pesticides and fertilisers," she explains, emphasising that her research also focuses on organic seed production and biodiversity.

Collaboration and groundbreaking projects

One of the most notable aspects of Birte Boelt's career is her ability to collaborate and create innovative solutions. Since 1995, she has collaborated with the Seed Industry Committee and SEGES in research programs addressing the sector's challenges.

"Collaboration with the seed industry, especially consultants and seed growers, is crucial for my work as a researcher and now as a professor. Without collaboration, our research would not be put into practice as quickly. And that is precisely what I want – for my research to be applied in practice," says Birte Boelt, who is also the chair of the Business and Innovation Committee at the Department of Agroecology, as well as a member of the faculty's Business and Innovation Committee. Here, she works to promote dialogue and collaboration with the business sector, not only in seed cultivation but also in many other aspects of agriculture and the food sector.

Moreover, technology plays a crucial role in the new professor's research. An example of her groundbreaking approach is the use of multispectral image analysis to determine seed quality.

"Multispectral image analysis provides highly nuanced information about the seed's surface, and currently, I am involved in international work discussing whether the technology can be used in standardised seed analysis. It will provide 'new lenses' and ease the workload in seed laboratories, where a considerable amount of time is spent documenting the purity and quality of Danish-bred seeds before export. Exporting seeds is not straightforward; there are strict quality requirements and, most importantly, documentation of quality. This new technology can help with that. So, it's quite exciting to be part of this work," explains Birte.

The work with multispectral image analysis is again an example of extensive collaboration with the industry and an area where Denmark is actually at the forefront. According to the newly appointed professor, this technology can contribute to creating new opportunities to improve the quality of Danish seeds.

Professor and mentor at the same time

With her newly acquired title as a professor, Birte Boelt has big plans for the future. In addition to teaching both undergraduate and graduate programs at AU, she wants to develop a postgraduate course in seed science, allowing students to explore and develop an interest in seed cultivation. Her goal is to attract more students and inspire them to pursue a career in seed science and technology.

Although Birte Boelt has already had an impressive career, her journey is far from over. With her unwavering passion for nature, dedication to research, and commitment to collaboration, she serves as a guide and mentor for both Ph.D. students and postdocs in the field of seed science.

Birte Boelt's journey began with an early fascination with the natural world, evolving into an impressive career in agronomy and later seed science. It is a journey that continues with the implementation of new technologies and, most importantly, education.

"I look forward to continuing the work, now as a professor. It will be a challenge to maintain high seed yields of good quality with access to fewer pesticides. It requires knowledge of biological processes and a good understanding of crop growth and development. Fortunately, there are significant technological advancements in agriculture in recent years, and seed cultivation must also keep up. Therefore, I will continue to focus on collaboration both nationally and internationally. Additionally, it is one of my major goals to establish my course, so more people begin working in this area," concludes Birte Boelt.

Aarhus University has appointed Birte Boelt as a professor of seed science and technology, effective from September 1, 2023. She will deliver her inaugural lecture on December 13, 2023.

More information

Professor Birte Boelt, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Tel.: +45 2228 3328 or email: bb@agro.au.dk