2016, Hans Winzeler | Switzerland

Hans grew up on the tillage farm of his parents in Barzheim, Switzerland near the German border, and cereals, especially bread wheat, were his best buddies throughout his career as a scientist and plant breeder.

He studied agronomy at ETH Zurich between 1969 and 1973 and obtained a Master of Science with Tony Hunt at the University of Guelph (Canada), flirting for a while with the idea of staying in that Eldorado of small grain science to continue his scientific career. However, he finally decided to join the young research group of Josef Nösberger at ETH Zürich and accomplished a Ph.D. thesis on wheat crop physioloqy in 1980. He then complemented his scientific skills with a plant breeding experience as a post-doc at Washington State University with Cal(vin) F. Konsak and at Oregon State University with Warren E. Kronstad.  

Back in Switzerland, Hans got a position as a cereal breeder at the Federal Research Station at Zürich-Reckenholz (now Agroscope) in 1981. With his innate enthusiasm, he soon assumed leadership in that successful breeding programme, but he also maintained a close link with basic plant science. He was the driving force behind the early engagement of Agroscope in molecular breeding of wheat in the late 1980s. A fruitful collaboration continued when Beat Keller, who had been hired for this purpose, became a professor at the University of Zurich.

Hans was the main organizer of the very successful EUCARPIA Cereal Section Meeting 1994 in Landquart, Switzerland, under orders of Alfred Brönnimann, then director of Reckenholz. He was elected treasurer of EUCARPIA in 1992 and for the next 6 years, he was an energetic member of the executive committee, assuming responsibility for the continuous functioning of our society.

When turbulences about the transfer of breeding programmes between the different Agroscope stations began, Hans took a brave decision in 1995 by changing workplace to Delley Seeds and Plants (DSP). In this young private company, he became responsible for the near-market breeding activities of the Swiss cereal breeding programme, shared between Agroscope and DSP. From 2002, he acted as CEO of DSP. With his wide experience and knowledge, coupled with an exemplary passion for the cereals, he earned great respect with his peers and collaborators in Switzerland and abroad, well beyond his retirement in 2012.

The person of Hans Winzeler truly reflects a central element of EUCARPIA’s objectives. He kept building bridges between the different sectors involved in the development of plant breeding. He was and is still able to get a molecular scientist to understand the need of a cereal farmer, as well as to get a seed merchant to appreciate the difficulties and latest advances in variety development.

8 February 2017