Alain Gaume – Always on the Move

Alain Gaume

Alain Gaume has headed the ‘Plant Protection’ Strategic Research Division at Agroscope since 1 May 2017. He is also one of the ten members of the Agroscope Executive Board. We met up with him for an interview. 

Anyone hoping to catch Alain Gaume will need to get up early, as he’s always on the move. For one thing, his diary is jam-packed; for another he travels frequently – especially by rail – to all four corners of Switzerland to meet with his 90 colleagues: not just to Changins (where his office is located), but also to Wädenswil, Reckenholz and Cadenazzo. What’s more, he also commutes on a regular basis to Bern, where he attends Agroscope Executive Board meetings. “Fortunately, I work well on the train, and use the journey time to prepare my dossiers” says the new SRD Head, smiling. He also divides his time between two homes: between German-speaking Switzerland, where he lives with his wife and the youngest of his three children, and a pied-à-terre in the canton of Vaud. 

The Neuchâtel native is clearly not averse to movement and change. After his degree in Agronomy at the ETH Zurich, he completed various research mandates and postdoctoral stints in both the USA and South Africa. And he has more than a passing familiarity with Changins, having written his degree dissertation on controlling grey mould in viticulture here – in collaboration, incidentally, with one Olivier Viret, whom he succeeds at Agroscope. In addition, Alain Gaume headed the ‘Plant Nutrition and Fertilisation‘ National Research Programmes at Agroscope from 2005 to 2007, and was involved in the ‘ProfiCrops‘ research programme from 2007 to 2009. He then moved to the private sector, where he worked at Syngenta as Head of Seedcare Research Biology from 2009 to 2017. “Each of these stages, of these opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of, has given me the chance to learn new things: to gain scientific expertise, manage projects, or master a new language. I feel that I’m more of a generalist than a specialist“ explained Gaume, who as a child wanted to become a gardener, and spent his holidays in the Jura countryside on his uncle’s tractor. 

The “new kid on the block in a new organisation”, as he describes himself, views the people who make up Agroscope with great respect: “I’m delighted by the potential and skills that I see here, by the energy and commitment of the staff. With fewer and fewer resources available, they still manage to produce so much” says the 47-year-old scientist admiringly. 

In addition to studying current projects and preparing the 2018-2021 Work Programme, Alain Gaume also takes the time to support staff cohesion. He’d like to “bind” the staff to this new organisation, lead them to harness synergies in priority topics in agriculture, and to think nationally and no longer just locally – all this, despite financial restructuring and the continuing high demands of both agricultural practice and consumers. “If we continue to set priorities and, if necessary, focus on fewer topics, this strengthens us, and we’ll be able to maintain our reputation both nationally and internationally. The upheavals are painful and we can’t compensate for them completely, but we’ve no alternative but to make the best of things” says the scientist, who remains optimistic and confident nonetheless. “I see the potential, and know that we’re headed in the right direction.” 

Sibylle Willi, Agrarforschung Schweiz