Director, Tree R&D Operations

A leading sustainable agricultural technology company is providing patented high-yielding trees to growers and then providing proprietary bean processing to create sustainable food ingredients while simultaneously using pongamia to restore degraded farmland. They have retained Kincannon & Reed to recruit a Director, Tree R&D Operations to lead the continued evolution of its cultivar development and simultaneously ramp up R&D operations, facilities, and staff to meet increasing pongamia tree demand. The Director, Tree R&D Operations will oversee all aspects of the Company’s R&D global operations involving pongamia tree biology, including short, and long-term breeding, phenotyping, and developing science-driven cultural practices.

The Company

They are a fast-growing food and agriculture company, headquartered in California, with offices in Florida, Hawaii, and Australia. With a mission to plant millions of trees to feed billions of people, the Company is dedicated to helping growers feed people while taking care of the planet. They produce plant protein and vegetable oil by growing non-GMO, sustainable pongamia that is carbon negative and produces dramatically higher yields than other oilseed crops. The Company grows pongamia on farmland that can’t be used for traditional crops due to weather, disease, or market challenges.

Position Overview

The Company seeks a highly experienced professional with strong leadership, research management and field skills for this role.  The Director, Tree R&D Operations will report to the Vice President Tree Research &Development. S/he will act as a thought partner and advisor while managing operational activities that support the company’s key research objectives and goals. 

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Foundational R&D
    • Co-lead and manage aspects of pongamia cultivar development including breeding strategy, genomics, and various tree physiology and developmental targets such as developing novel rootstock cultivars and flowering biology across the globe.
    • Establishing processes to document and build on research developed.
  • R&D Field Operations 
    • Lead and manage phenotyping and agronomic evaluation of current commercial cultivars, coupled with the design and management of R&D field trials.
    • Work closely with Company personnel and growers to evaluate cultivars that are currently deployed in Florida, Hawaii, and Australia.
    • Drive science-based development of novel cultural practices, such as the manipulation of crown architecture, that might need to be optimized separately for various cultivars.
  • Team Leadership
    • Manage and grow a best-in-class team in Tree R&D Operations
    • Lead staff by deploying and managing R&D trials, overseeing data-collection activities, developing phenotyping tools, and testing cultural practices and related new technologies.

Other important parameters for this position include:

  • The position is supported by a team of 3-4 direct reports
  • The position is in Florida
  • Modest travel is required, including some international
  • English is required
  • Candidate must be authorized to work in the United States without visa support.

Candidate Profile

We seek a hands-on, experienced Director, Tree R&D Operations who, in collaboration with the Vice President of Tree Research & Development, will develop and execute a long-term strategic research plan encompassing cultivar evaluation, identifying key traits underlying flowering, fruit set and yield, and develop novel management strategies driven by an evidenced-based understanding of tree biology.  The successful candidate will oversee and lead all aspects of the Company’s pongamia cultivar development and associated R&D across the globe.

Experience and Education

  • 15+ years of professional and research experience, including demonstrated oversight and management of R&D projects, particularly as related to fruit/nut orchards, high-value forests, etc., where significant innovations in processes, technology, and knowledge were required. 
  • Demonstrated experience leading an innovative and nimble research team.
  • Excellent scientific depth in horticulture, forestry, or agriculture-related technical subjects (e.g., yield assessments and projections; sampling strategies; nutritional monitoring; annual weather variation and phenological predictions, etc.)
  • A strong background in research approaches pertaining to orchard tree breeding, physiology and genetics (such as flowering/pollination/fruit maturation behaviors), and pest-disease management.  Familiarity with DNA marker applications is a plus. 
  • Strong relationships with relevant trade associations, industry professionals, and technical experts to keep pongamia cultivar development and management practices on the leading edge of technology and production trends.
  • An advanced degree in Plant Sciences, Plant Genetics/Breeding, Forestry, Horticulture, Agronomy, or equivalent is required


  • Proven ability to evaluate and selectively adapt newly evolving data-capture technologies, such as geo-spatial data-capture systems, UAS, GIS, and related precision agriculture tools.
  • Excellent communication and documentation skills:  team meetings, development of an open communications culture, management reporting and business relationships.
  • A deep familiarity with methodologies and data gathering practices, particularly digital and geospatial techniques, to evaluate agronomically-important characteristics such as early tree growth, pollination, and bean yields.

Personal Characteristics

  • Ability to think strategically, analytically, and creatively.
  • Results-driven with unquestioned honesty and integrity.
  • High physical and intellectual energy.
  • Determined, persistent, yet not overbearing or divisive.
  •  Ability to diplomatically yet firmly push or hold onto and defend positions.
  • Able to thrive in an agile and results-oriented private equity investment environment.

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