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Keynote Speakers

Dr. Ksenija Gasic

Dr. Ksenija Gasic is a Professor of Horticulture and a peach breeder and geneticist at Clemson University, South Carolina, USA. Her program is developing fresh market types of peach varieties adapted to environmental conditions of Southeastern U.S. and replant tolerant rootstocks. The emphasis of the fresh market breeding is on development of high quality, disease resistant peach varieties and involves characterization and utilization of the peach genetic diversity and development and utilization of genomic technology and computational approaches to improve breeding efficiency. Rootstock breeding is focused on combining tolerance to two replant diseases that affect southeast of U.S., Armillaria Root Rot and Peach Tree Short Life. Dr. Gasic’s program has been actively involved in development and application of modern technological tools in breeding programs (,,, germplasm preservation and utilization, and education of future generations of plant breeders.
Dr. Gasic has received 2020 Godley-Snell Award for Excellence in Agriculture Research from Clemson University. She authored/coauthored 84 refereed publications, generated over $5 million in grants, and has given over 150 presentations at national and international professional and research meetings. She is serving as a President of the American Pomological Society (, Chair of the Prunus Crop Germplasm Committee, and is a Past-President of the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB;, and member of US Rosaceae Executive Committee and Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee, among others.

Dr. Lee DeHaan

Dr. DeHaan obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, with majors in Biology and Plant Science. His MS and PhD degrees in the areas of Agronomy and Applied Plant Science are from the University of Minnesota. In 2001, he began work at The Land Institute to explore the potential for developing perennial grain crops from a wide array of candidate species. He experimented with perennial rye, perennial wheat, perennial legumes, and several wild perennial grasses. Since 2010, his attentions have been dedicated to developing intermediate wheatgrass into a perennial grain crop, using traditional breeding and genomic methods. Over the past six years, companies have begun to release food and beverage products made from intermediate wheatgrass under the trade name Kernza. The program now has collaborators working at institutions in the United States, Canada and Europe, exploring an array of topics, including the ecosystem services of perennial grain crops, the functionality of Kernza in food products, disease management of Kernza, and optimal management of Kernza fields in diverse environments.

Dr. Jacob Blauer

Dr. Jacob Blauer earned his PhD from Washington State University in the Molecular Plant Science Program.  Post-PhD, Dr. Blauer worked in the private sector for 8 years.  The first four years he was employed at the Simplot – Plant Sciences division in Boise, ID as the Sr. Agronomy Sciences Manager.  In this position he was able to test and develop bioengineered potatoes for the marketplace and oversaw testing from tissue culture through postharvest evaluations.  This experience prepared him to then take the role as the Western Regional Breeder for alfalfa development with Forage Genetics International based in Nampa, ID.  In this position, he was responsible for trait introgression into dormant alfalfa and oversaw pre-commercial seed production for the company.  During COVID in 2020, Dr. Blauer was offered the opportunity to return to WSU as the postharvest potato physiologist due to the retirement of his graduate mentor, Dr. Norman “Rick” Knowles.  Dr. Blauer’s current research focuses first on potato variety development for the fresh and processing industries and also develops practical solutions for growers while adding to the basic science knowledge base.  Dr. Blauer is highly interested in heat stress and its associated impact on potato physiology for production, quality, and generative potential.

Dr. Michael Neff

Dr. Neff earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate from the University of Washington. He was a postdoc at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the lab of Dr. Joanne Chory. In 1999, Dr. Neff joined the Biology Department at Washington University in St. Louis as an Assistant Professor. In 2007, Dr. Neff joined the WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences as an Assistant Professor of Crop Biotechnology and was the Director of the Molecular Plant Sciences Ph.D. Program for 14 years. He has trained 11 Ph.D. students, 3 M.S. students and over 100 undergraduates and is an inventor of two awarded patents. Dr. Neff is the project leader for the Washington State University Grass Breeding and Ecology Farm, which was built in 2019/2020. His current research focuses on breeding native grasses and turfgrasses and other grasses for land stabilization, habitat restoration, forage, food, roadside ditch plantings, residential, industrial, and recreational use. The program focuses on developing new varieties to address climate change, water use and environmental impact. The program’s most recent Kentucky Bluegrass variety ‘Matchless’ was developed for dryland seed production without field burning and is currently licensed by the Fusion Seed Company in Fairfield WA.