1968, Jean Bustarret | France

The presence of the family Bustarret at Brassempouy, a village of the Chalosse familiar to archeologists, is attested to already in the sixteenth century. From his home in Versailles, Jean Bustarret faithfully maintained the family house, built in 1840, and ensured that it remained the center of summertime family gatherings; it was there that he was host to his close friends to whom he admitted his regret at not being able to take better care of the garden during his short holidays.

The grandfather of Jean Bustarret had broken with a long farming tradition by leaving Brassempouy to go to Bordeaux; there he pursued a successful career as a ship broker, as did his son. The eldest of his four grandsons, Jean, was born in Bordeaux on January 25, 1904. Jean Bustarret enjoyed a brilliant school career at the Lycée Montaigne; poor health led him to take the direction of the National Institute of Agriculture (Institut national agronomique) and obliged him to prepare for the entrance examinations at home. He was admitted in 1924 and graduated in 1926. In 1930, he joined the plant breeding station that had been set up at Epoisses, close to Dijon, by the PLM railway company. 1930 was also the year of his marriage to Anne Doazan whom he had met during his practical training at Villaries, by Toulouse; they were to have six children. When the railways were nationalized in 1937, the Dijon station and its staff were attached to the Ministry of agriculture. In 1938, Jean Bustarret joined the Agricultural Research Center at Versailles; the family then moved to Versailles and the house on the plateau Montbauron was henceforth to become the home port.

The Work of the Researcher

Although he had assumed general responsibilities at a very early juncture - on his arrival at Versailles - Jean Bustarret always remained a researcher at heart: when preparing his decisions, he never failed to give pride of place amongst his concerns to scientific arguments. In his research work, it was already possible to identify his future qualities as a leader: for example his clarity, his open-mindedness, his bent for analysis and his sense of responsibility.

The team in Dijon was headed by Charles Crépin, who was to be frequently referred to as "mon maître" by Jean Bustarret. Following in the footsteps of Emile Schribaux, he conducted a program to rationalize breeding, in which Jean Bustarret played a very large part: whether in the methodology for evaluating the characteristics that together defined a variety, the elaboration of breeding strategies in order to obtain a maximum of improved characteristics within one line, or propagation techniques ensuring the genetic, physiological and health qualities of the seed or planting material.

The Dijon team published work, in particular, on resistance to cold in wheat, resistance to smut in oats and resistance to bunt in wheat. These articles produced original scientific results, particularly as regards the diversity of a pathogenic species faced by the diversity of a cereal species or the various ways in which cold acts; they also provided operational indications for assessing varieties and on the recommended methods and techniques for breeding. At the same time, the work carried out by this same team, first in Dijon, then in Versailles, to obtain productivity, earliness and resistance to cold within one and the same line of wheat - a thing held to be impossible - was to be brilliantly successful since, from 1950 onwards, the variety "Etoile de Choisy" was to play an important part in the renewal of South-West France since it was to make fertilization profitable in that region; it was also to enjoy lengthy success throughout France, but also in Southern Europe and in the USSR.

As from 1937, Jean Bustarret also carried out work on potato, both in Morvan and in Finistere, taking into account both protection against viruses and blight and cooking quality. In so doing, he created an excellent variety that is still highly appreciated today, "BF 15"; I may also mention the programs undertaken on oil plants as of 1938; these were to result, three years later, in the necessary bases for renewing the growing of oilseed rape, whose present importance is well known.

Most of those publications included not only the exact results and the immediate recommendations, but also proposals for long-term research action. These forward-looking objectives, that frequently exceeded the modest means available at the time, were to bear witness some decades later to a wide range of interests and to the clear thinking of their author. In the same context, I should emphasize the importance of a 1944 publication: Varieties and Variations. In that publication, Jean Bustarret compares the various modes of propagation of species and the differing approaches to the concept of variety by agriculturists, botanists and microbiologists. He points to the importance, for geneticists, physiologists, pathologists, technologists, breeders, and so on, of clearly perceiving the complexity of the concept of variety and also to the need for precise knowledge of the type of living material involved in their experiments. This text of remarkable clarity contributed to the basic learning of a whole generation. Admiration for its author may be accompanied by a further feeling of great emotion: it was at the end of the lecture he was giving on that subject at the Versailles Center that Jean Bustarret was called away urgently when one of his sons was hit by a car. That is the hardest ordeal to which a couple may be put: the death of a child. Other misfortunes were to follow and Mrs. Jean Bustarret was to pass away in 1953; her husband then assumed the full responsibility of the family at the same time as his considerable professional duties.

The Influence of the Teacher and of the Organizer of the Varieties/Seed Complex

The growth of research first requires the training of researchers. One of the great concerns of Jean Bustarret, in charge of the Central Plant Breeding Station as of 1944, was to train young scientists recruited to the newly-established posts. The cycle of lectures, visits and discussions then organized at Versailles by Jean Bustarret and Robert Mayer was also open to scientists from the breeding firms since the scientific strengthening of those firms was a prerequisite for the development of cooperation with the State laboratories. This common melting-pot was to anticipate the systems set up later by higher education. Those who participated will never forget the Versailles cycle. Beyond his capabilities as a teacher, both in the classroom and in the field, Jean Bustarret appeared to them as a most reserved person whose silences were impressive for the newcomers; once contact had been made, he proved to be a simple and benevolent man, although highly allergic to lack of precision - and even more so to flattery. Indeed, his rapid judgment of men was exceptional.

His learning, his curiosity and his interest in history naturally drew Jean Bustarret towards teaching; he was to teach genetics at the National School of Horticulture (Ecole nationale supérieure d'horticulture - ENSH) as from 1941 and was to continue his courses until 1959 despite the enormous pressure of his responsibilities. His marking of papers from ENSH on Sunday afternoons is well remembered by his children.

The proper organization of the application of plant breeding is essential to the effectiveness of the research-and-development complex and Jean Bustarret played a big part in two fields: the technical regulations on marketed varieties and seed, as adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture; the protection of new plant varieties, in the legal field.

In the first context, Jean Bustarret was one of those who inspired the policy of the Standing Technical Committee on Plant Breeding (Comité technique permanent de la sélection CTPS) from 1942 - although he did not chair that Commitee until 1961 - right up to 1976; his scientific and technical competence, his practical sense, his attention to detail and his precision did much to facilitate the drafting, updating and implementation of effective and prudent regulations, prepared after consultation with all the parties concerned, based on reliable technical trials carried out in all clarity and adapted to the national and international contexts. In addition to its main task of keeping the catalogues of varieties admitted to trade, CTPS played a capital part: it helped in standardizing breeding and propagation methods; it was behind the creation of a national field experiment network as from 1950; it maintained consistent concertation in the variety/seed complex, with large-scale participation by the profession, the National Institute of Agronomic Research (Institut national de la recherche agronomique - INRA) and the Ministry of Agriculture. In this delicate exercise, the excellent relations that existed between Jean Bustarret and the breeders proved most useful: a conversation with his old friend Florimond Desprez frequently made it possible to identify the good solution.

The International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (Paris Convention) and the corresponding French Law owe even more to the personal action and militancy of Jean Bustarret. In a legal field quite unfamiliar to a biologist, he succeeded in building up, in parallel to patents, an original and coherent system for which he obtained international recognition. The Paris Convention, adopted in 1961, is now applied in 18 countries where it has enabled official acknowledgment of certain breeders' rights. Whereas the creation of a new variety becomes ever more expensive, this guarantee encourages firms to put new research programs in hand and at the same time permits breeders the free use of all genes, thus recognizing the specific nature of genetic resources.

The Organization and General Trend of Research

It was first in the context of plant breeding that Jean Bustarret assumed overall management responsibilities, even before being officially made responsible for the department in 1944; together with Robert Mayer, at that time appointed Director of the Versailles station, he devoted his first endeavors to strengthening and equipping the existing stations in accordance with the approach he had summarized in a 1951 publication: participation in the basic genetic of biological research in subjects essential to breeding, attentive use of the results of research in other disciplines, stock-taking and analysis of the diversity of significant botanical groups, development of breeding methods, conduct of innovative breeding programs and, finally, study of the conditions for the agricultural and industrial use of varieties.

In his task, Jean Bustarret was assisted by an eclectic group of colleagues belonging to the "hard core" of research between the wars, who were also his friends: Luc Alabouvette, Gustave Drouineau, Pierre Limasset, Robert Mayer, etc.; nevertheless, he avoided stifling his young research workers with unnecessarily detailed directives that would render their work sterile. In 1946, following a trip to North America - a tiring journey at that time in a military aircraft with landings in Ireland and Newfoundland -, he told me that he had seen very early maize hybrids with high productivity and that I should look into this new field in Versailles and try to contribute some original element. Only a researcher who was also a keen-sighted agriculturalist could have recognized the reasonable hopes that would justify such a directive at a time at which the growing of maize in France was losing momentum with hardly more than 300,000 hectares, whereas the United States of America enjoyed a crushing scientific, technical, industrial and commercial superiority in this speciality.

The attention that Jean Bustarret devoted to plant breeding, a synthetic department that was close to his heart, but which he did not treat with any special indulgence, formed part of a broader project: that of a national agency responsible for all agricultural research. A first Agricultural Research Institute had been set up in 1921 and then administratively suppressed in 1932. It was re-formed in 1946 as a public establishment of an administrative nature, under the name of INRA, then employing some 126 scientists; this figure was to grow to almost 1,000, covering a much wider field, by 1972. Jean Bustarret played a capital part not only during this entire period of expansion and innovation, but already during the preparatory work for setting up INRA, under the impetus of Charles Crépin and Maurice Lemoigne. Their project, supported by Jean Lefevre, the Secretary General of the Ministry, was accepted by the Minister, Tanguy-Prigent; Jean Bustarret, assisted by Marc Ridet, who was to remain his financial assistant for a long time, was appointed rapporteur to the Council of State. The draft Law was adopted in May 1946.

In 1948, Raymond Braconnier replaced Charles Crépin at the head of the Institute; Jean Bustarret was appointed Inspector General in 1949. At the departure of Raymond Braconnier, in 1956, many of the researchers in INRA expected the Institute to be headed by Jean Bustarret; however, it was Henri Ferru who was to be appointed. The capabilities of both men were such that they left the impression of a great team, that led to the INRA's greatest period of expansion, and also of a pair of friends. IN 1963, at the departure of Henri Ferru, the Minister, Edgard Pisani, appointed Jean Bustarret as Director of the Institute, a title that was transformed a year later to that of Director General; in 1972, he took his administrative retirement.

In a publication that appeared in 1966, Jean Bustarret retraces the development of INRA during its first 20 years; I need not repeat here the organization and structures, remarkably suited to both the time and the problems; nor the procurement of the indispensable funds; nor the reclassifying of the agricultural research staff; nor indeed the major successes of the laboratories that enabled the Institute to play its part in the remarkable expansion of agriculture after the war and which led to its reputation in many different circles. I will lay emphasis, on the other hand, on a more fundamental, a more durable aspect: the features of agricultural research described in 1966 by the man that had contributed so much to shaping them:

1. The awareness of research with an aim, whose choices must take into account the nature and seriousness of the social and economic problems, of the scientific and technical situation and, finally, of the duty to undertake work at a sufficiently early juncture for the results to have every chance of facilitating the subsequent evolution of society.

2. The need to carry out basic research, particularly into the structures and mechanisms of life, in conjunction with concerns for its application. The topics and material are therefore to be chosen as a function both of the priorities of agriculture and of the capability of man to act on a given factor of the soil, of the climate or of living beings in order to influence the results of agriculture. Jean Bustarret frequently mentioned the support given to this policy of balance by the members of the first Standing Scientific Committee of INRA: Maurice Lemoigne, Clément Bressou, Pierre-Paul Grassé, André Leroy and Emile Terroine.

3. The need to ensure collaboration between highly differing scientific and technical disciplines and to study in detail, in their situations, the great diversity of living beings and environments that constitute the reality of agriculture.

4. The calling for analysis and also for experiments under conditions close to those of the field.

5. Finally, the will to cover the various aspects of activities relating to agriculture, whereby Jean Bustarret points to the branches developed or put in hand by INRA between 1946 and 1966: the zootechnical sector, with the creation of the Center at Jouy-en-Josas and the inception of the Centers at Tours and at Clermont-Ferrand, veterinary research, food-processing technologies, forestry and hydrobiological research (which previously came under the water and forestry administration) and, finally, agricultural economy and rural sociology, fields entered into by INRA in 1955 and 1964, respectively. This constitutes a truly exceptional record of scientific extension.

In 1971, at the time of the 25th anniversary of the Institute, Jean Bustarret summarized in the following words what had been the priorities of INRA since 1966:

- modernization of animal and plant production

- diversification of production, for example towards protein plants

- improvement of the quality of produce and adaptation to the market

- improvement of the food industries

- agricultural and bioclimatic research into rural planning

- adaptation of forests to their twofold aim of production and environment

- study of agricultural structures, relations between agriculture and industry and the place of agriculture within the overall economy.

These choices correspond well with the problems that were to be faced by an agriculture that had at least become, on the whole, an exporting industry thanks to the progress in productivity; research, that had played a large part in that progress, adjusted its programs to the new situation that was to arise.

The Relations

Jean Bustarret devoted considerable attention to outside relations: with the numerous departments of the superordinate Ministry of Agriculture; with the future Ministry of Research that was to develop from the General Directorate for Scientific and Technical Research (Délégation générale a la recherche scientifique et technique - DGRST) in 1958 and whose first head, Pierre Piganiol, was later to chair the Board of Trustees of INRA; with the other research agencies whose numerous personalities were to participate in agricultural research councils and boards; with higher education, particularly with the National Schools of Agriculture (Ecoles nationales supérieures agronomiques - ENSAs) on whose premises the INRA centers were to be strongly developed; with the numerous undertakings, both upstream and downstream of agriculture; with the technical institutes with which particularly close links were altogether natural; finally, with the farmers and their professional organizations, always bearing in mind that they are the people who in fact implement the knowledge and instruments produced by the research and development sequence: for example, the links with the Centers for Technical Agricultural Studies (Centres d'etudes techniques agricoles - CETAs) have been closely pursued at all levels of INRA. The quality of these links with the farmers was emphasized at a reception which the Standing Assembly of Chambers of Agriculture was to organize in honor of Jean Bustarret when he went into retirement.

Relations with tropical research warrant a special mention. It was Jean Bustarret himself who maintained contacts with the heads of agencies such as the Center for Scientific and Technical Research for Overseas (Office de la recherche scientifique et technique d'outre-mer - ORSTOM), the Institute for Research on Cotton and Tropical Fibers (Institut de recherche pour le coton et les textiles tropicaux - IRCT), the Fruit and Citrus Institute (Institut des fruits et agrumes - IFAC), the Institute for Research on Tropical Agriculture (Institut de recherches agronomiques tropicales - IRAT), etc. The result of these links was the development of the INRA Center in the West Indies as from 1964 and the greater availability of laboratories in France to cooperate with the Mediterranean countries, particularly Morocco and Tunisia, and also with the tropical countries.

In a general manner, all international exchanges grew considerably after the end of the war; the friendly relations that Jean Bustarret established were of great value: for example, with Emile Larose at Gembloux, where the Faculty of Agriculture awarded him an honorary doctorship, or with F.R. Horn in Cambridge. Jean Bustarret, who was a member of the Swedish Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, met there his dear friend Erik Akerberg; it was Erik Akerberg who presented the greetings of the Swedish Academy to the Academy of Agriculture of France on the occasion of its bicentenary in 1988, at which he recalled those memories with emotion. Another friend, Tom Walsh, director of agricultural research in Ireland, was very appreciative of the organization of INRA and of the research concepts of Jean Bustarret whom he honored, on his departure, with a reception at the Irish Embassy in Paris.

The setting up of EUCARPIA was to crown this international activity. The European Association for Research on Plant Breeding was created on the initiative of Jean Bustarret, of J.C. Dorst (Wageningen) and of W. Rudorf (Cologne). From 1961 to 1964, Jean Bustarret was Chairman of this Association that is today the most important body, well beyond the frontiers of Europe, for world-wide concertation in the plant breeding sector.

Jean Bustarret received many honors, including Commander of the Legion of Honor, Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, and others too numerous to mention here. He took the corresponding duties seriously. Elected to membership of the Academy of Agriculture in 1959, he followed its work despite his numerous occupations; in 1975 he became a most attentive President and ensured that active links were maintained with research. For example, he presented in 1975 a note by Autran and Bourdet on the use of gliadin electrophoresis in the testing of wheat varieties and seed: one of the first examples of technology derived from biochemistry, which is today revolutionizing agriculture and the industries of living matter. The Academy of Agriculture will not forget his exemplary activities that were turned to the future. It is fully aware of the loss it has suffered.

Retirement was to give Jean Bustarret a period of calm after a life of intense activity. His children, his friends, the Academy of agriculture, a few trips, and the house in Brassempouy throughout the summer: such were the interests he pursued from the small apartment he had taken in Versailles, rue Henri-Simon. The reception given by his children to celebrate his 80th birthday enabled his many friends to express their admiration and their friendship.

Then came the problems of age that he accepted stoically, and he recently chose to enter a home in Louveciennes where he had the occasion to appreciate its calm. He continued to receive his visitors with the same friendly attention, but with an increasing detachment from the things of this world; he was already much further. A few weeks before his passing away, he confided in one of us that he had had the life he would have wished. Thus, he departed from this earth like the true man he was.

For a whole generation of research workers and agriculturists, Jean Bustarret is not only the creator whose work I have sketched out, he remains the leader who knew them personally and who always found the right words. He was the only one who really knew everything of INRA and all of his researchers. His most admirable characteristic was that he could be both extremely lucid - particularly in his knowledge of men and of their weaknesses - and at the same time so basically benevolent. He was a kind of father to us and we share the sorrow of his children and of his whole family.

Jean Bustarret passed away on October 5, 1988. He endeavored, more than anyone else, over an exceptionally long period of some thirty years, to ensure that French agricultural research was a tool that responded to the needs of our times.

by André Cauderon

1 Address given to the Academy of Agriculture of France at its sitting of December 14, 1988 (Records, Vol. 74, 1988).

2 Member of the Academy of Sciences, Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Agriculture.

This text has originally been published in Plant Variety Protection, Gazette and Newsletter of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) No. 57 (September 1989):22-27. It has been made available to EUCARPIA with the help of Michel Rousset, INRA/CNRS/UPS/INA-PG, 91190 Gif Sur Yvette, France.


BUSTARRET J. and CHEVALIER R., 1938. Les enseignements de l'hiver 1938-39 et la sélection des blés. Le Sélectionneur, 7, 151-161.

CREPIN Ch., BUSTARRET J. and CHEVALIER R., 1938. La résistance des variétés d'avoine au charbon nu. Ann. Epiphyties et Phytogén., 4. 391-411.

CREPIN Ch., BUSTARRET J. and CHEVALIER R., 1937. Le probleme de la création de blés résistants a la Carie. Ann. Epiphyties et Phytogén., 3. 323-443.

CREPIN Ch., BUSTARRET J. and CHEVALIER R., 1938. Nouvelles recherches sur la résistance des blés aux caries. Ann. Epiphyties et Phytogén., 4. 413-446.

BUSTARRET J., 1943. La dégénérescence de la pomme de terre, ses causes, son importance agronomique. Essai de mise au point. Ann. Agron., 13, 18-27.

BUSTARRET J. and JONARD P., 1944. Observations sur la culture et la sélection de quelques especes oléagineuses. Ann. Agron., 14, 77-97.

BUSTARRET J., 1944. Variétés et variation. Ann. Agron., 14, 336-363.

BUSTARRET J., 1954. Botanique agronomique, in DAVY DE VIRVILLE, Histoire de la botanique en France, Vol. 1, 269-279. Société d'édition d'enseignement supérieur, Paris.

BUSTARRET J., 1961. Le catalogue des especes et des variétés et le Comité technique permanent de la sélection. Bull. tech. d'inform. Min. Agric., 157, 201-206.

BUSTARRET J., 1960.  La protection des obtentions végétales: état actuel de la question sur le plan international. C.R. Acad. Agric. Fr., 46, 631-634.

BUSTARRET J., 1961. La protection des obtenteurs de nouvelles variétés. Congres national des semences, Paris, 187-190.

BUSTARRET J., 1951. Les recherches de génétique végétale et d'amélioration des plantes das le cadre de l'INRA. Ann. Amélior. Plantes, 1, 3-8.

BUSTARRET J., 1961. L'Institut national de la recherche agronomique. C.R. Acad. Agric. Fr., 47, 153-158.

BUSTARRET J., 1966. Présentation de l'Institut national de la recherche agronomique (20e anniversaire). Regards sur la France, No. 32, 1-18, SPEI ed., Paris.

BUSTARRET J., 1964. Contribution de la recherche agronomique au progres technique et économique. Revue Fr. Agric., 7, 37-51.