Ana Badea, Barley Breeder at AAFC Brandon

Follow @barleygoldcrop on Twitter!

Follow @barleygoldcrop on Twitter!

Ana Badea, PhD is a Barley Breeding and Genetics Research Scientist for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Brandon Research and Development Centre (BRDC). Badea earned her Ph.D. degree from the University of Agricultural Science of Timisoara, Romania, in Plant Breeding and Genetics in 2003. Her Ph.D. research was mainly focused on the development of two-row winter malting barley.

Where did you work before the AAFC-BRDC?

In 2004 I joined AAFC at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre (LeRDC) in Alberta as a visiting fellow. I moved to AAFC-BRDC, in Brandon, Manitoba in 2012 as the new barley breeder for the Six-Row and Hulless Barley Breeding Program. In 2017 I was entrusted with the leadership of AAFC’s flagship barley program: the Two-Row Barley Breeding Program.

What got you interested in this area of work?

I’ve always been interested in plant biology and genetics, but I’ve always wanted to help people around me and make a contribution to society. From a young age it was very clear to me I wanted to do something where I am connected to the land, which is why I chose to enroll in the University of Agricultural Science. In my first year of university, I was accepted to be a member of the “Breeding and Genetics Club”. It was there I discovered plant breeding, a perfect career choice for me as it allows me to do everything I’ve always wanted to do, and even more! As a barley breeder my main goal is to develop improved varieties. One of the best things is seeing farmers adopt these new varieties and as a result get better quality and yields.

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the AAFC-BRDC.

As the AAFC-BRDC Two-Row Barley Breeding Program leader I work with a team of dedicated colleagues to develop cultivars for three different barley classes; two-row malting, two-row feed and two-row hulless for food for western Canada, where more than 90% of Canada’s barley is grown. A new stream of barley cultivars is continuously required to keep up with emerging disease problems and changing environmental, economic and market conditions so producers and the industry remain competitive.

I’m involved in several research projects focusing on biotic and abiotic stresses in barley and barley genomics. For example, our team has recently released the first barley reference genome of a Canadian barley cultivar. A genome is the genetic code of a living organism, so if we understand its genetic code, we can better predict how the crop will perform allowing us to select those favourable traits more precisely. These traits –yield, disease resistance or quality – will make barley more profitable.

Another aspect of my role is helping cultivate the next generation in agriculture by training students and graduate students. Every year our breeding program offers high-school and undergraduate students the possibility for shadowing, or internship opportunities in the lab and/or the field. Training the next generation is very important since it helps develop a solid, skilled workforce.

What can you say about the value of farmers providing funding and support to your organization?

Barley breeding is a long-term effort that requires a strong commitment and support. Through the years farmers have provided guidance and funding that helped breeding programs stay focused to deliver on proposed targets. Farmer funding is critical for the success of the AAFC-BRDC barley breeding program. The funding helps our program make breeding plans that extend a little bit further enabling us to evaluate a larger number of breeding lines and capitalize on innovative research opportunities. It provides stability allowing us to maintain long-term, highly qualified, technical staff working on various activities required to develop new barley varieties.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

On the breeding side, our ultimate goal is to deliver improved, field-ready barley cultivars that promote sustainable agriculture and help make farming operations more efficient and cost effective. Once we register a new cultivar it gets licensed to a seed distribution company and then made available to farmers. The process is a bit slower for malting barley since new cultivars need to undergo market development first. However, as seen in the past, the use of improved barley varieties often translates to increased revenue at the farm gate, lower risk and reduced variability for the barley grower’s income. Access to new and improved cultivars supports Canada to maintain its leading position as a premium barley supplier and, we like to believe, improves the competitiveness and profitability of our barley farms.

On the research side, a project that is very close to my heart is the Research on the Farm* new malt barley varieties led by the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Center in collaboration with Manitoba Crop Alliance. This project is a “win-win.” It allows me as a breeder to be in direct contact with the producers to receive feedback first-hand on our new varieties and better understand what needs to be improved upon next. The project gives farmers access to the newest genetics and helps determine the profitability of producing malting barley on their farm.

*The Research on the Farm Program collects data from real, working farms in order to test new practices or products over a wide range of farming environments to help guide management decisions. For more information visit

How do you spend your time outside of work?

These days our family does long evening walks into the forest near Brandon. It is a real treat to see the forest transforming each season! Another activity our family enjoys is baking different types of bread and treats. Of course, most of them are being made out of the unmistakable, delicious nut-like flavour of barley flour. One of our family’s go-to treats is blueberry barley muffins. What better way to start your weekend mornings!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

One thing that always stuck with me is what my grandfather, a hard-working farmer, told me one day when we were coming back from the field. I was quite young then, but I do remember how serious he was when he told me this: “Never forget to always be respectful to the land and the animals on your farm. They are the ones feeding you.”

What gets you excited about the work you do?

Many things excite me related to my work and it is difficult to narrow them down. If I had to, seeing the new cultivars adopted by producers and end-users, the versatility of the barley crop and the barley community are ones that come to mind first. The national and international barley community is a very exciting group to be part of. There is a lot of passion around barley and its products. Like one of my colleagues will say: “There is nothing better than a great cold beer in the summer or a hearty hot barley soup on a cold winter day”.

Follow Ana on Twitter @barleygoldcrop