Protecting crops from diseases and pests is one of the most effective ways to sustainably enhance yield in order to feed the growing population !

Yogesh Belkar (PhD), our next pathbreaker, Assistant Manager- Fungicide Field Biologist at Agricultural Research Station, BASF India Ltd (Pune), tests specific fungicide molecules under field conditions.

Yogesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his early experiences growing up in and around nature which inspired him to take up a career in agricultural research.

For students, identify your interests first. Once you have decided what you want to do based on your interests, your passion, dedication and self-motivation will lead you towards your goal.

Yogesh, what were your early years like?

Hello everyone, Myself Dr. Yogesh Belkar. I live in Satara (MS), in the historic city “Rajdhani”. I was born and brought up surrounded by hills and mountain ranges which ultimately shaped my interests to live and work for nature. During my early childhood days, I used to wander in the hilly and forest areas in and around the city with friends. It was a great experience that helped me to choose a career in the field of agriculture.

My native place is Ratnagiri, Konkan region (MS). My father came to Satara for a livelihood and worked in a bakery for his entire life. Though he had no educational background, he was highly motivated to provide higher education to his children. His vision and commitment helped me to complete my education till my doctorate. 

Childhood friends always matter because they sharpen and shape your future. We were a group of seven people who were always enthusiastic to learn new things, work hard and ultimately become successful in our respective careers. Thus, I completed my secondary education at New English School, Satara. We enjoyed our school days just like everyone. Then, I took admission to 12th science stream and moved one step ahead towards my goal. 

What did you do for Graduation/Post-Graduation?

After completing the school curriculum, I went to an Agricultural university to pursue my graduation. 

In India, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi is the highest authority under which agriculture education is streamlined into different subjects. There are 63 agricultural universities all over India. I got admission to BSc (Agriculture) in Dr. Balasaheb Sawant Kokan Krishi, Vidyapeeth, Dapoli, Ratnagiri based on merit in 12th class marks. It is one of the four agricultural universities in Maharashtra.

In that curriculum, I studied many agricultural subjects related to the livelihood of everyone. It included Agronomy, Plant Pathology, Horticulture, Agricultural Engineering, Extension Education, Agricultural Economics etc. While studying all these subjects I developed keen interest in Plant Science which motivated me to study for ICAR’s Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) exam which led to MSc (Agriculture) in Dr. Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, Akola (MS). I secured 184th rank in that exam all over India. Learning agriculture is very interesting as it gives you every bit knowledge of the science about nature. It gives you information about each and every aspect around you.  I also pursued a PhD in Plant Pathology from Dr. PDKV, Akola. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

As I had mentioned earlier, a keen interest in nature always inspired me to do things related to nature. So, I chose agriculture as a field for my career. Also, my father is the key influencer who used to say that I must pursue a career in the agricultural field as we have a background of farming. It supplemented my thought process to go ahead in that direction.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.

Graduation at the university level gives you a basic idea or theoretical knowledge about every subject, but to understand the subject in detail you must do a masters where you do actual research as per your own interest on a specific subject. You have a guide or mentor who shows you a path and gives a direction to your research interest. I worked on bacterial biological agents that were isolated from soil and used to control the soil borne plant pathogens of soybean. I faced many challenges in that phase. As a new learner and researcher, though I had only a theoretical base without experience, continuous learning gave a direction to my research path. While doing research in master’s, I decided to pursue a PhD (Agriculture). 

I got admission to the same university for my doctoral degree. During higher education, I had the opportunity to interact with different people from around the world. I had my colleague from Vietnam, Mr. Hong Dinh Dinh from whom I learned new cultural things. I continued the same research topic on soybean root rot that was a major problem in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. I studied different aspects of plant pathogens, their environmental correlation, molecular characterization and identification, resistance studies against the pathogen that helped in development of resistant soybean variety. Doctoral research is a tough job for everyone. It took me five years to complete my PhD degree during which I had faced many challenges and finally succeeded in becoming a research scholar who was ready to explore the world of plant pathology.

Tell us about your first break 

I finished my doctoral research and submitted my thesis at department of Plant Pathology, Dr. PDKV, Akola. After that I joined as Assistant Professor at one of the agricultural colleges in Sindhudurg (MS). It was a great and memorable experience where I taught different plant pathology courses for the BSc agriculture course. At he same time, I was also preparing for interviews as my goal was to enter the corporate R&D world. One must have strong references to secure a position into such MNC’s. My friend who was working in PI Industries Ltd gave my resume to the Head, R&D, Udaipur. I faced a virtual interview and got selected, and finally reached my destination.

PI Industries Ltd, Udaipur (RJ) was the first pesticide company where I got the chance to work. I was selected as a Research Scientist. It was a core R&D field job. In the pesticide industry, it takes 12-15 years to develop a single molecule. In India, PI Industries is the first Indian company that carried out core R&D research from synthesis of molecules to the final product. There, I was a part of the biology team, I worked as a greenhouse scientist. I used to test different fungicide molecules under controlled conditions in a highly atomized greenhouse. It was a great research experience where I explored a lot of things to create a future career path for myself.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

After completion of your academics, you initially have only theoretical knowledge with limited research expertise. Though you might have undergone technical aspects of research practically, university research and the corporate R&D research are completely different. Every step in R&D is precious and requires a lot of responsibility, because as an early phase research scientist, your decisions may decide the fate of the molecule and of the company. It took six months for me to understand the workflow, technical processes, and methods. Coping up with the R&D environment (based on my existing knowledge base) was the biggest challenge that I accepted and resolved by learning and doing. I ultimately became an expert in day-to-day research activities. I worked for 4.5 years at PI Industries and learned in-house R&D activities after which I wanted to explore the field of R&D, and so moved onto the next phase in my career.

Where do you work now?

Presently I am working as Assistant Manager- Fungicide Field Biologist at Agricultural Research Station, BASF India Ltd, Pune. Its an MNC based in Germany. The company has six global research stations all over the world. ARS, Pune is one of them. Primary R&D work is conducted at the company headquarters at Limbergerhof, Germany. At ARS, we test specific fungicide molecules under field conditions where all technical aspects are taken care of by the biologist. The related information is then shared with the global research team for further review.   

What is the Benefit of your work to society?

Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy. We expect huge agricultural production to feed our nation. It is possible only when we can cultivate crops without interference from pests and diseases. Farmers face tremendous losses due to this reason. Our core R&D work is focused on developing the best chemistries to tackle this problem. We give best solutions to the farmers in the form of pesticides that can control dominant pests and diseases of agricultural crops due to which it’s possible for farmers to attain the highest yield potential under the Agricultural eco system. Thus, I feel proud to be part of such a chemical industry who work for the wellbeing of mankind. 

Any specific memorable work?

I carried out my first masters research project on beneficial microorganisms. The prime objective was to isolate the bacteria “Pseudomonas fluorescens” from soil. I tried many times but failed. Finally, when I isolated that organism from soil, I spent 27 hours continuously resolving the issue. Then, I succeeded in reaching the desired goal. It was a memorable work for me. That always motivates me and gives me direction to conduct every task in my field.

Your advice to students?

It’s important for everyone to identify their own interests first. Then accordingly try to find a desired career path. Once you have decided what you want to do, your passion, dedication and self-motivation will lead you towards the goal. Best wishes my dear students. 

Future plans: 

As a biologist, I am ready to accept new challenges in the future. We are currently focusing on advanced drone based chemical applications for different agricultural crops. Thus, I want to adopt new upcoming technologies and methodologies to become a successful researcher and Plant pathologist.