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Brett Carver began researching wheat varieties at OSU in 1985. (Photo by Adelaide Mathison)

The Man Behind the Plant

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Media Contact: Kristin Knight | Communications and Marketing Manager | 405-744-1130 |

Described by co-workers as hardworking and dedicated, Brett Carver leads the Oklahoma State University Wheat Improvement Team while researching and breeding wheat to find better ways to feed the world.

Carver, who received the 2022 Eminent Faculty Award from OSU, grew up in Atlanta and attended the University of Georgia for his bachelor’s degree in plant science and agronomy. After earning his bachelor’s, he continued his education by earning master’s and doctoral degrees at North Carolina State University.

Growing up, Carver was undecided about pursuing music or science, he said. Ultimately, he chose science after seeing research showing an unstable food supply unable to feed the growing population, he added.

“I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be a wheat breeder or a plant breeder or even an agronomist, for that matter,” Carver said. “Later in college at UGA, I thought that would be a worthy occupation — going into science where you’re trying to make a better, more reliable food supply.”

In February 1985, Carver joined the faculty of the OSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. He later transitioned to leading the OSU Wheat Improvement Team in 1998.

Carver’s work is his passion, he said. He cannot talk about himself without talking about wheat because it is a part of who he is, he added.

“You’ll never meet anyone as passionate about their job as Dr. Carver is,” said Jason Ray, a senior agricultural operations lead in the plant and soil sciences department. “This is his life. This is his everything.”

Carver’s dedication and ability to do the same thing for so long and still have passion is something Nathan Stepp, a senior agricultural operations lead in the plant and soil sciences department, said he admired.

Tina Johnson, a plant and soil sciences senior research specialist, said she has known and worked with Carver for more than 28 years. They attended the same church, First Presbyterian, where Carver would play the organ.

“I love music,” Carver said. “I’ve been involved with music since I was 6 years old, playing piano.”

Music is one of Carver passions, he said, and playing piano is one of the ways he decompresses.

A self-proclaimed morning person, Carver goes to the gym at 5:45 a.m. as a way to step back from his work and relax, he said. Taking care of his health is important, he added, and having a healthy body keeps a healthy mind. He also walks to work.

Carver started biking in 2012, after his car was stolen from his garage while he and his wife, Terri, were out of town.

“I just never bought another car,” Carver said. “We live so close to campus, and it’s healthy to walk. I use my bike as a way for commuting a distance of more than 2 miles.”

Until recently, Carver rarely took a vacation from his work, Stepp said. Carver started going on biking tours after wheat harvest in 2015.

“My wife and I decided to try a bicycling vacation,” Carver said. “We just go meet people we’ve never met before and bike with them for a week to decompress. You really get to see the country in a different way than you can from a car.”

In 2012, Carver also served as a witness in a court case between two plant breeding companies. He said the court case set a new direction for his own research.

“Some of the things we’re doing today resulted from the research I did during that court case,” Carver said. “It was a landmark moment for sure. I was exposed to some other ideas, and it’s taken me this long to flush them out. That experience opened my eyes to a lot of different consumer-oriented opportunities in wheat breeding I had not fully appreciated.”

Mike Schulte, director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, works directly with Carver through the OWC. Carver is unwavering in his research and the pursuit of a better product, Schulte said.

“I suspect Dr. Carver’s contributions and findings for the betterment of our industry will be written with high esteem 50 to 100 years from now,” Schulte said. “The thought comes to mind, ‘One reaps what he sows.’ When producers are in the fields during variety trial season, they know Dr. Carver is in those fields giving Oklahoma farmers the opportunity to grow something they may never have the opportunity to grow.”

OSU’s wheat program would not be the same without Carver’s leadership and determination, Johnson said.

“Dr. Carver is probably one of the most ambitious people I know,” Johnson said. “He is passionate about wheat, and he gets all of us excited about wheat. He’s basically the reason OSU has a wheat program. He’s trying to come up with a wheat variety that will feed the world.”

During harvest season, Carver is active in the fields, often working alongside student workers through the heat and long days, Stepp said.

“Wheat is a piece of me,” Carver said. “It’s what I want to leave, a piece of innovation I am emotionally and intellectually attached to, and let people reap the benefits of it. We’re trying to solve problems. I can’t think of a better thing to do for a job.” 

Honoring the Best Faculty

The Eminent Faculty Award honors one Oklahoma State University faculty member each year who has made sustained contributions to scholarly and creative activity, teaching, and service, bringing honor and recognition to OSU. 

The selection process begins with the OSU provost and senior vice president appointing the Eminent Faculty Award Committee: two members from the Research Council, one from the Graduate Faculty Council, one from the Faculty Council’s academic standards and policies committee, one Regents professor, one undergraduate student and one graduate student.

The award winner from the previous year serves as chair of the selection committee to ensure the group and administration review the criteria as well as the nomination and screening process. 

The committee selects three finalists. A three-member OSU Selection Committee chooses the awardee from those finalists. 

Six faculty members from the Ferguson College of Agriculture have received the award:

  • C. Thomas Haan, biosystems and agricultural engineering, 2000
  • Stanley Gilliland, animal and food sciences, 2001
  • Marvin Stone, biosystems and agricultural engineering, 2005
  • Chang-An Yu, biochemistry and molecular biology, 2007
  • William Raun, plant and soil sciences, 2009
  • Wade Brorsen, agricultural economics, 2014
  • Brett Carver, plant and soil sciences, 2022

Source: OSU Academic Affairs

Story By: Adelaide Mathison | Cowboy Journal

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