End of an era for industry-leading grass breeder

It’s the end of an era for leading grass breeder, David Johnston, who retired from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s (AFBI) after 39 years of service.

Past and present staff from across the Institute, as well as commercial partners, came to celebrate Johnston’s successful career at AFBI Loughgall in recent days.

The former grass breeding programme leader has always had a strong interest in his work, with family connections in the grass seed business going back over 100 years.

With a history firmly rooted in the industry, it was no surprise that Johnston took a summer job in the grass-breeding section at Loughgall in 1975.

It was here that he was encouraged to study for a degree in agriculture at Queen’s University, Belfast.

During his time in the AFBI grass breeding service, Johnston has been responsible for breeding over 900 varieties, with 40 of these making it through to Recommended List status.

Speaking at David’s retirement, AFBI chief executive Dr. Sinclair Mayne said:

Despite the relatively small investment in grass breeding in AFBI – compared to that of the major rival breeding programmes – the Loughgall grass breeding programme has exceeded that of all competitors under Johnston’s leadership.

The institute now has varieties that are bred and tested nationally and internationally with the programme being commercialised through a strong AFBI-Barenbrug partnership, which Johnston was instrumental in maintaining.

With over 70% of seed mixtures in Northern Ireland containing AFBI varieties and extensive use across the UK and Republic of Ireland, David’s work has been highly successful, benefiting many livestock producers.

Johnston has also won many significant awards for his achievements – in 2012 he won the Farming Life Farming Champion Award and in 2015 he was elected President of the Ulster Grassland Society. He has been chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders on two occasions.

Dr. Gillian Young will replace the long-standing programme leader.