1972, Erik Akerberg | Sweden

Professor Erik Akerberg, honorary member of the Swedish Seed Association and former director of the Association during 1956-1971, died on April 9 1991. For many plant breeders all over the world the name Erik Akerberg was synonymous with Svalöf and its plant breeding and research during this 15 year period. He was the leader of the Svalöf Plant Breeding Institute during a very dynamic, evolutionary period in breeding activities and research. His efforts were certainly very stimulating and influential towards this successful development.

Erik Akerberg was born in 1906 and grew up on an agricultural experimental station, Flahult, Smaland, where his father was the farm manager. Erik Akerberg was trained as an agronomist at Alnarp and qualified in1931. Parallel to his studies at Alnarp he was a student of Science at Lund University. He matured in botany and genetics for his B.Sc. degree in 1928. While continuing his postgraduate studies at Lund, Erik Akerberg took up a position as plant breeder at the Weibullsholm plant breeding station, Landskrona during 1932-1938. He was breeding many crops such as oats, peas, and beans, clover and grasses, and potato. His thesis work was devoted to an analysis of the grass species Poa pratensis and Poa alpina, and crosses between them. Erik Akerberg had an enormous work capacity and energy. In 1938, when he left Weibullsholm to be head at one of the Svalöf branch stations in Norrland (Lännäs), he was able to present a new red clover variety, Resistenta, for reproduction. He presented his doctoral thesis at Lund University in 1941. At Lännäs Erik Akerberg had a large number of crops in his breeding programme and was concentrating on barley and oats, clover and grasses. Besides this work he was selected to act as secretary in an official investigation into the future agricultural development of Norrland - the northern part of Sweden. Later this work was followed by planning committee work for the organization of agricultural research in Norrland. This resulted in the creation of the Röbäcksdalen Agricultural Research Station and the net of sub-stations which are now the nucleus of the Swedish University of Agricultural science in Norrland. After six years of breeding work at Lännäs, Erik Akerberg moved to Uppsala as head of the Swedish Seed Association's Ultuna branch station. In co-operation with his co-worker and later successor Dr. Sven Bingefors, he developed a breeding programme and a net of sub-stations there. He also created a very close liason with different departments of the Ultuna Agricultural college. Thus, he was active as a teacher, associate and assistant professor at the Department of Crop Husbandry. It was in this capacity that he assisted in the organization of the International Congress of Genetics in Stockholm 1948, and of the International Congress of Botany in Stockholm 1950.

During the first half of the fifties Erik Akerberg was very much engaged in the work at the State Agronomy Research Institute, where he also served as the director during the years 1954-1955.

In early 1956 Erik Akerberg moved to Svalöf as the new Director of the Swedish Seed Association. He succeeded Professor Ake Akerman who passed away in April 1955 at the age of 67. Akerman had had a very wide net of personal contacts. He had been very active, among many other things, in organizing agricultural production in Sweden during the Second World War. This gave Ake Akerman invaluable experience, important to his role as former leader of the Svalöf plant breeding programme.

All the contacts that Erik Akerberg, 50 years old in January 1956, had already established at Lännäs in Norrland and at Ultuna-Uppsala were of course very helpful to him in his new position. He very soon completed his national and international network of contacts, many of which had already been established through his many trips abroad.

In 1956 Erik Akerberg joined a group of leading European plant breeding professors who started the European Plant Breeders Union - EUCARPIA. As a secretary of the Board he hosted the fourth EUCARPIA - Congress held in Lund in 1965. He was the President of EUCARPIA during 1965-1968.

Erik Akerberg was also an active member on the board of the Scandinavian Agriculturists Association. He was chairman of the Swedish group within the Association. When retired he was elected honorary fellow of the Association. As Ake Akerman had been responsible for breeding of wheat and oats, Erik Akerberg headed this department within the Association. In Dr. James MacKey he got a very competent assistant breeder. When Dr. Gösta Julén left the forage crop department some years later to work for the FAO  in Rome, Erik Akerberg took over as head of this department. For a research project on clover he hired Mrs Magnhild Umaerus. Dr. MacKey took over responsibility for the department of wheat and oats. Somewhat later on the potato department was being reconstructed, and when the leader of this work, Dr. Denward, moved to the department of Genetics at Lund University, Erik Akerberg was ready to take over responsibility for the potato department. Among the assistants was Vilhelm Umaerus who was working on a research project for resistance to potato blight and was responsible for the disease resistance breeding programme. Magnhild Umaerus moved with Erik Akerberg, switching from clover to potato research.

The experience gained from these three different departments, all within a relatively short period of time and dealing with crops that he had already been working with at Weibullsholm and at the branch stations, gave Erik Akerberg an insight into how the departments were organized and how efficient they were. It also gave him a good idea of the problems and the actual research already going on and what was needed for the future.

During this period (1956-1960) the author was responsible for the cytogenetics department and other basic biological research activities. Erik Akerberg followed our research with great interest and enthusiasm. He was especially concerned and devoted to the establishment of a crop physiology sector including building climate chambers.

But he had a broad interest in most of our projects. Among them were the attempts being made to improve the results from crosses over the species barriers. This included creating sterile conditions and special equipment for the embryo rescue technique.

Erik Akerberg was the vice-chairman of the Swedish State Agricultural Research Council. He also was a member of the Nordic Contact Organization of the national research councils. These positions gave him a very broad knowledge of current research in crop genetics and breeding, which was extremely valuable to his colleagues at Svalöf. Erik Akerberg was of course very interested in crop breeding, but to be able to set a goal for the different breeding programmes he was anxious to follow the development in crop production procedures, and to try to understand agricultural policies. He formed his own opinion and tried to influence general developments by publishing his own contributions to the public discussions. An environmentally satisfactory and balanced development of farming and forestry was in short his goal. He also liked to see some farming happening in areas more typically used for forestry. This was especially evident from his activity in the "Tagel-Foundation", where he was a member of the Board for many years. Tagel was an estate in Smaland with increasing forestry and decreasing farming.

Finding new alternatives in crop production was important to Erik Akerberg. Thus, he introduced rape as a new silage crop in northern Sweden and Vicia faba as another seed crop for the southern part of the country. He also tried to stimulate an increased and improved production of seed. He served as vice-chairman of the State Seed Testing Institute. The production of seed of clover and grasses was of special interest to him. He served as secretary in home local seed grower associations and also in the central organization of Seed Growers in Sweden, where he was elected Chairman. Erik Akerberg was even engaged in the Board of the Swedish Plant Protection Institute until this institute was amalgamated with the present Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Erik Akerberg recognized at an early stage the need for improvement, through plant breeding, of crops in developing countries. This led to a series of courses for plant breeders from these countries at both Svalöf and Lund. This activity is described by G. Julén in a special article in this issue. Erik Akerberg was greatly impressed by the work of plant breeders (initiated and organized by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations) in developing countries around the world, especially in Latin-America and Asia. Their activities created the green revolution with greatly increased crops of wheat, rice and maize that form the main staple food diet of human beings. It was on Erik Akerberg's initiative that the plant breeder at CIMMYT, Mexico, Norman Borlaug, one of the heroes of the green revolution, was nominated for, and later received the Nobel Peace Price.

Erik Akerberg was a member of several scientific academies and societies. He served for a period in the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry as leader of the agronomy sector, and he was a member of the central board of the Academy. He was later elected honorary fellow of the Academy.

Erik Akerberg was also honorary fellow of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge, England, as well as of Nyland's Swedish Agricultural Society in Finland.

Three universities awarded him an honoris causa doctorate, namely the University of Reading, England, the Agricultural University of Poznan, Poland, and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Switzerland.

The following academies elected him as a member: the French Academy of Agriculture, Paris, France, the Academy of Agriculture, Moscow, USSR, the Finnish Academy of Science, Helsinki, Finland, and the Academy of Technical Sciences, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Erik Akerberg served as scientific specialist and adviser to several authorities, companies and organizations, mainly within the agricultural and food industry. He had a special interest in his work with the Swedish Agricultural Market Board, and especially in the work of its group planning the supply of food in emergency situations to the Swedish population.

The Rotary organization gave Erik Akerberg many contacts and he devoted much time and interest in the activity of this organization. On retiring he held a central position within the Rotary.

Erik Akerberg served Swedish agriculture and Swedish plant breeding during his lifetime in a most successful and devoted manner. He has been our respected spokesman whose deep knowledge and broad experience everybody listened to. He was a very co-operative, friendly and kind person, who stimulated his colleagues and kept his friends happy all over the globe. We are grateful to him and we will remember him with great admiration.

By A. Hagberg
SLU, Svalöv / Sweden
The text has originally been published in the Journal of the Swedish Seed Association 101:157-160 (1991). It has been made available to EUCARPIA with the help of Peder Weibull, Svalöf Weibull AB, SE-26881 Svalöv, Sweden.