Nihat Guner taking care of the plants in the greenhouse.
Nihat Guner taking care of the plants in the greenhouse.

Ph.D. – Horticulture – Plant Breeding and Genetics, Minor: Genetics, North Carolina State University
M.S. – Horticulture – Plant Breeding and Genetics, Oregon State University

Years of Service at Sakata: 2004 to Present

Currently Breeding: Watermelon

Nihat, what inspired you to become a vegetable breeder?

Well, I grew up in a big city in Turkey and there was not much in the way of agricultural activities around me, but there was a cemetery across from our apartment. At certain times of the year, especially during religious celebrations, people visited their loved ones’ graves. Kids of my age (8-12 years-old) were paid to clean weeds that were growing around the cemetery and water the roses or trees around it. My passion for plants started while I cared for the plants in the graveyard. Later on when I went to college at Ankara University, genetic classes were my favorite. I am inspired by making selections and crosses. I can make my own cultivar and make people happier through better tasting fruits and vegetables.

What inspires you and what’s the best part of your job?

Making people happy makes me happy. Two things energize me about my job: making better tasting and higher yielding crops. Better tasting crops make people happy and they enjoy what they eat. Higher yielding crops make them more available, giving people better access to that crop.

Continuous excitement and surprises are the best part of my job. There is no limit to how much you can improve on the quality and the yield of a crop. Therefore, there are continuous opportunities for improvement. Secondly, each selection and hybrid cross may result in numerous surprises since you often get more than what you expect!

Recently Sakata celebrated 40 years of business in NAFTA – Do you have anything special you’d like to say about Sakata?

I share many common values with Sakata, the most important one being passion. We both have passion to breed for excellence. Sakata gives me the best working atmosphere to fulfill my passion and breed for excellence. That’s why Sakata is my first employer and hopefully my only employer.

Briefly, can you tell us something that not everyone knows about you?

When I was kid, watermelon was my favorite crop as well as today. However, I did not like to eat watermelon with seeds. I always had to take out all the seeds before I eat a piece of watermelon. Now I am thinking God made me a watermelon breeder for a reason.

Nihat participated in a national horticulture scholarship exam held by the Turkish Ministry of Education in 1995. Thousands of students from all across the country took the exam and Nihat placed second. He put that scholarship to good use and furthered his education in the U.S.

Nihat is the global research and development head for watermelon and senior watermelon breeder at Sakata.