Charles Basson knew from a young age that he would like to go into plant breeding – he got an early exposure to what the career path is all about because his father works in the agricultural industry.

“I went on to study undergrad at Kovsies (University of the Free State) from 2012-2015 and did my Honours in 2016, then started as a Junior Tomato Breeder at Sakata based in Lanseria for four years before moving to my current position as Sunflower Breeder at Sensako/Syngenta where I am currently busy with my Masters in plant breeding as part time student at University of the Free State.”

Basson explains a typical day on the job depends on what time of the year you ask the question. “During peak season we travel to all our different trials across the country to evaluate and capture the data and during our ‘less hectic’ time we analyse this data in order to make decisions for the next cycle.”

Basson says he loves that you work within a diverse team and across multidisciplinary functions to achieve a common goal. “The job stimulates you intellectually where you have to think, observe and take in to account a lot of different factors to be able to make decisions.”

To study plant breeding, you need the subjects Mathematics and Biology and/or Life Sciences.

Simply follow the advice below to find out more about getting involved. Also check out many more careers to choose from in the agri sector on Food for Mzansi.

Okay, now it’s over to Charles Basson, Sunflower Breeder at Sensako:

Could you sum up your job for us?

We try to breed varieties that are better adapted to the ever changing environment while at the same time selecting for improved yields and to do this we need to take in to account a lot of different factors from the plants genotype (genetic makeup of the plant) to the environmental factors (biotic & abiotic) where the plants are grown as well as the interactions between the genotypes and the different environments.

Charles Basson, a sunflower breeder at Sensako.

So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?

This really depends on what time of the year you ask the question, during peak season we travel to all our different trials across the country to evaluate and capture the data and during our “less hectic” time we analyse this data in order to make decisions for the next cycle.

What qualification do you need for this career?

B.Sc. Agric majoring in Plant Breeding (Combining this with either Agronomy or Plant Pathology is always a plus).

What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?

Good people skills, patience, attention to detail and this might not be a character trait but you need to love the outdoors because you spend a lot of time outside within your trials and nurseries.

What subjects do I need to become a sunflower breeder analyst?

Mathematics and Biology and/or Sciences.

What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?

I like the fact that its constantly changing and improving as new technology is discovered, it’s also exciting to be a part of an industry that is essential for people’s livelihood.

Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments.

As plant breeding is long term focused as of yet my proud moments are still in the pipeline but definitely well on their way.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I love being in nature so trail running in the mountains is my number one go to over weekends and when I’m not running, I enjoy coffee a lot (it’s also considered a science in itself).

Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story here on Food for Mzansi Agri Career Fair?

Agriculture is definitely the best industry to work in not only because of the constant new innovations but also in terms of job security. Think about it, everybody needs to eat, but saying this it’s important to understand that it’s very hard work which requires a lot of long hours in sometimes uncomfortable environments to get the results you require.

Where can I study to become a Sunflower Breeder?

As far as I am aware UFS is the only university where you can start with pure plant breeding in undergrad, but I know that Maties (Stellenbosch University) and UKZN has plant breeding postgrad programs where you are able to migrate over to plant breeding from plant sciences and/or genetics.