A professor and plant breeder in the Department of Plant Sciences and Crop Development Centre (CDC) in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), Hucl’s expertise in bread wheat, specialty wheats, and canaryseed breeding and genetics has revolutionized farming practices and enhanced food security across Western Canada.
Hucl’s exceptional career as a world-recognized plant breeder and researcher, combined with his unwavering commitment to mentorship and volunteer service, embodies the essence of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.
Established in 1985, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit—the province’s highest honour—celebrates excellence and achievement by Saskatchewan citizens. Hucl, along with five other recipients, will be invested with the order at a ceremony in Saskatoon on September 27, 2023.
Throughout his distinguished career, Hucl’s dedication to science and breeding of bread wheat, canaryseed and other crop lines for short-season regions of Western Canada has resulted in the release of more than 40 new crop varieties. These varieties have not only reinforced western Canadian agriculture but also played a pivotal role in the region’s value-added industry, contributing to billions of dollars in farm-gate receipts.
A notable achievement for Hucl—who held the Strategic Research Program Chair in Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) Wheat, Specialty Wheats, and Canaryseed Breeding and Genetics for 33 years—is the development and release of the first hairless canaryseed variety. This groundbreaking innovation not only established Saskatchewan as a global leader in producing and exporting canaryseed, but also opened doors to a growing market due to the seed’s health benefits. The hairless canaryseed varieties developed by Hucl made harvesting and processing easier by eliminating the tiny, sharp spikes from the hull, which are a major skin and lung irritant.
Hucl’s impact on food security has been profound, with his wheat varieties demonstrating improved yields, disease resistance, and qualities specifically tailored for the baking industry. His research focuses on breeding wheat varieties that are highly resistant to the wheat disease Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), which poses a threat to the worldwide wheat market due to the harmful mycotoxin found in infected wheat kernels. By developing FHB-resistant varieties, Hucl played a role in ensuring the safety and quality of wheat products for both domestic and international consumers.
Saskatchewan, accounting for nearly 44 per cent of Canada’s total spring wheat area, has embraced Hucl’s wheat varieties, with his strains being planted on approximately 2.4 million acres of farmland annually. One such variety, CDC Teal, earned the prestigious Seed of the Year award in 2016, further highlighting the substantial impact of Hucl’s work on the agri-food industry.
Hucl’s passion for innovative breeding approaches extends beyond wheat. He has ventured into ancient and heritage grains, popular among Saskatchewan’s organic and urban agricultural sectors. As Canada’s sole spelt wheat breeder, he has recently developed and released three new spelt wheat varieties. Spelt wheat, particularly when consumed as a whole grain, boasts numerous essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that support a healthy gut microflora and human health.
Moreover, his forward-thinking approach and adoption of cutting-edge technologies have streamlined wheat breeding processes, significantly reducing the time it takes to release new wheat varieties. By leveraging DNA testing technologies, Hucl “pyramids” multiple disease and insect resistance genes into his latest strains, resulting in durable resistance and reducing the need for synthetic fungicides and insecticides in farmers’ fields.
For nearly 25 years, Hucl served as an advisor for the Saskatchewan Seed Growers Association, earning him honorary life memberships in both the Saskatchewan Seed Growers Association and the Canadian Seed Growers Association. He also actively participated in several management boards, including the Crop Production Show Executive Committee, the Prairie Grain Development Committee, and the Canaryseed Association of Canada.
Hucl has also been a teacher and mentor. As a renowned and highly published scientist, Hucl’s influence extends to the next generation of plant breeders. Throughout his career, he has mentored and trained numerous undergraduate and post-graduate students, cultivating future leaders in the agricultural industry.
For his contributions, Hucl has been decorated with numerous prestigious awards. In 2019, Hucl was awarded the CSTA Plant Breeding & Genetics Award, a testament to his exceptional contributions to the field. In 2014, he was honoured with a SABEX award for his innovation in the agricultural industry, recognizing his pioneering work that elevated the agricultural landscape. In 2017, he was named a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Agronomy, and in June of 2023, received the Distinguished Agronomist Award from the same society in recognition of his outstanding contributions to agronomy. He also received the College of AgBio’s Research Excellence Award for his leading research in wheat and canaryseed breeding.