Employee Profile : Philippe Lemaitre, Manager of Seed Production

March 7, 2022

At Prograin, we know soybeans! We spoke with our manager of seed production so that he could tell us about his work, what he loves about his role and to find out how he sees agronomy in the not-too-distant future. 

Hi Philippe. Tell us a little about yourself and your position at Prograin.

I have been manager of seed production at Prograin since June 1998. At first, the title did not include the word “manager,” but I have always been in charge of supervising the production of Prograin’s pedigreed seeds—from “Breeder” status to “Certified” status.

This means I am responsible for ensuring that the sales department—overseen by the district and distribution network manager—has the amount and quality of seeds required to meet the company’s targets and the producers’ needs.

What was your educational path to get this position? 

I obtained a Bachelor’s in Agricultural Science, with a major in plant science. My goal was to work in international development, which I did for many years abroad before coming back to Québec.

And how did you end up at Prograin?

I arrived at Prograin a bit by chance to fill a research position while their manager was on maternity leave. I had worked in a research lab before and had a bit of experience with technology and statistical analysis, but I had worked very little in Québec’s agriculture industry since I was returning from overseas. 

Prograin was also working on seed multiplication with Argentina during the “off season,” meaning in the southern hemisphere during the Canadian winter, and I spoke Spanish. When the manager came back from her leave, the manager of seed production position was vacant, so I applied. That was in 1998, at a time when soybean culture was booming in Québec. 

What does your typical day look like?

Even after more than 20 years in my role, I can say that every year is different at Prograin. Everything changes and is constantly transforming; and each year brings its own set of challenges. 

My routine changes with the seasons and includes planning the targets and needs, preparing for seeding, taking orders, seeding, inspecting, harvesting, doing quality and quantity inventory, screening, shipping to South America and Europe, etc.

I have maintained years-long relationships with a group of seed producers from across the province and beyond, and more specifically with select producers who are responsible for maintaining the genetic purity of our varieties. For this to work, I have to provide them with all the relevant information about our new varieties, while guiding them through the roguing process when necessary. 

I also manage all communications with organizations that play a key role in seed production in Canada and abroad, like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), Seeds Canada, the Producteurs de grains du Québec (PGQ), the Association des marchands de semences du Québec (AMSQ), the French Variety and Seed Study and Control Group (GEVES). 

What motivates you the most in your work?

What keeps me motivated are all the extraordinary people I work with. I thrive on teamwork and the people at Prograin all have a fantastic attitude. That’s actually my greatest motivation. 

The fact that we face common challenges together makes all the difference. I am very happy that my journey has allowed me to meet and work with the people I see every day. 

What do you like the most about your work?

Making sure that our producers and both our internal and external clients are happy. I also enjoy our great teamwork, as well as the cooperation and support we offer each other.

I especially appreciate the human aspects of my job and how our passion and enthusiasm help make things better. 

Easy success is always nice but facing a challenge and overcoming it together is also very gratifying. With experience, I have come to realize that the agricultural world is very fun to work in.

How would you describe the soybeans produced by Prograin?

Prograin is passionate about developing soybean varieties, and its equally passionate people who participate in this process. The goal is always to offer winning solutions to producers, distribution networks and export clients.

We develop “win-win” varieties that are suited to the different regions where we operate. We also work at improving processes at all levels of the company. We are always looking for ways to make better seeds and boost our skills. 

How does Prograin innovate in the soybean industry?

Prograin successfully innovates thanks to its numerous international partnerships and thanks to the commitment of its employees who keep up with the latest discoveries, notably through their reading and their discussions. It’s also thanks to management’s encouragement and support for the employees who work on these innovative projects. Excellent team spirit fostered within the company allows for new and creative ideas to flourish and grow into concrete outcomes.

What do you think the work of agronomists will look like in 10 years?

Excellent question. Ten years go by very quickly. I just spent more than 20 years at Prograin, and I didn’t even notice time flying by. I realize it now that I look at my grown children who were born when I first started my career.

The living world—and that includes plants and the soil, but also diseases and climate change—is so vast and always evolving. We are far from having it figured out. There are still so many things to discover. Of course, there is artificial intelligence, biotechnology, weeding robots, new molecules, and more, but every new solution will bring its own set of challenges. 

When I started in 1998, there was, for example, the Roundup Ready soybean. Today, we have E3 varieties of soybean that can tolerate three herbicide molecules because of adaptation and the level of resistance built up in weed populations. Even 25 years later, European countries still refuse to develop or produce these varieties. 

Today, organic soybeans are grown on a larger area and we see that cover crops are given preference, especially for maintaining “life” in our soil. 

Current global circumstances made us rediscover how fun and joyful agriculture is. Agronomists can still look forward to many exciting years ahead and I think it is important to continue cultivating people’s curiosity to learn how to farm better, while respecting ourselves and our surroundings.

What advice would you give to a farmer who wants to start growing soybean in Québec?

I would tell them to contact one of the Prograin agronomists, who would be delighted to drop by for a visit, answer their questions, and learn everything about their situation to show them what are the winning conditions for successful production. Prograin can help them with everything they need, from seeds to seeding, and right up to the purchase of their harvest when the time comes.

Thank you for this great interview, Philippe!