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World Coffee Research names George Kotch as Research Director

March 9, 2020

Kotch brings the ability to leverage networks and techniques from across the globe to focus on coffee’s challenges
George K

World Coffee Research is pleased to announce the appointment of George Kotch to the position of Research Director. The position is the senior scientific leadership position at the collaborative research nonprofit, responsible for leading WCR’s global research portfolio and building partnerships.

Dr. Kotch is one of the world’s foremost experts in building effective plant breeding programs and networks. In particular, he has focused on linking the needs of “customers” (e.g. farmers, as well as those who eventually consume the food farmers grow) to the research process and strategic R&D investments. Over three decades, he has managed some of the world’s largest global breeding programs, covering alfalfa to zucchini and everything in between.

“George brings tremendous experience accelerating impact in breeding programs, bringing new varieties that respond to farmer needs and market demands for quality and consistency,” notes Jennifer “Vern” Long, CEO of WCR. “Coffee faces serious challenges in the 21st century and George brings experience from a range of crops— he’ll leverage networks and techniques from across the globe to focus on coffee’s challenges. This is the right moment to bring him to our community as we face the combined threats of climate change  and low prices.”

He formerly served in several senior positions leading breeding teams at H. M Clause as Vice President of R&D (Americas & Pacific ) and Head of Global Vegetable Seed R&D at Syngenta. There, Dr. Kotch directed of all aspects of Syngenta’s global vegetable research and development program, covering 20 crops, from strategy development to global implementation and oversaw a team of over 800 employees.

Dr. Kotch left the private sector to bring his skillset to enhance the capacity of Asian and African national breeding programs focused on agricultural innovation for food security. He was the head of breeding at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, part of the GCIAR international agricultural research center system, which works to abolish poverty and hunger among people and populations that depend on rice agriculture as a staple food crop. For IRRI, Dr. Kotch led all aspects of the global rice breeding program which included substantial partnership with national governments and private partners.

Most recently, Dr. Kotch led the product design and management effort of the global Excellence in Breeding Platform, an ambitious program to modernize and improve breeding outcomes for the global community of international agricultural research centers (the CGIAR) and national breeding programs in low and medium-low income countries. Under Dr. Kotch’s leadership, the program supported breeding programs to change behavior—instead of approaching breeding from a tool-based or academic approach (e.g., what problem do I the researcher think needs to be solved?), the programs pivoted to user-led design approaches (e.g., what problem does the user—a farmer or a consumer—need to have solved?).  Linking user needs to breeding strategies, supported by increasingly low-cost genotyping tools, has led to substantive behavior change among national and international breeding programs worldwide. Before moving into managing breeding programs, George was a highly successful bean breeder at Seminis.  On the year before he was asked to manage a global breeding network, his program was responsible of 30% of all new product sales.

Along the way, created two start-up companies and assisted as technical advisory/fundraiser for a third, and served as visiting industry scientist at both UC Davis and N.C. State, helping to build public/private partnerships. From his earliest days as a broccoli and lettuce breeder in Idaho in the late 1980s, Dr. Kotch emphasized a strategic and results-oriented approach.  He holds a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics from the University of Wisconsin.

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