Iago Hale recognized for pioneering research, breeding and commercialization

Wednesday, May 8, 2024
Male in baseball cap inspects vines with female in bright shirt

Iago Hale, left, oversees UNH's kiwiberry breeding and research program at Woodman Farm.

Iago Hale, associate professor of specialty crop improvement, has been named UNH’s 2024 J. Brent Loy Innovator of the Year, recognizing his pioneering work in the kiwiberry research and breeding program. The Innovator of the Year award, presented annually by UNHInnovation, celebrates the commercialization of innovative ideas originating from UNH research that have substantial social and economic impact.

Five adults wearing nametags stand in front of a window
L-R: Marc Eichenberger, Associate Vice President and Chief Business Development and Innovation Officer; Jenna Matheney, Director, Technology Transfer; Innovator of the Year Iago Hale; Marian McCord, senior vice provost for Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach; Anton Bekkerman, Director, NH Agricultural Experiment Station. Photo by Makena Lee.

Hale has been instrumental in developing these cold-hardy, grape-sized fruits into a promising horticultural crop for the Northeast. His efforts focus on enhancing kiwiberry varieties for commercial production, emphasizing traits like flavor, texture and overall appearance that make them appealing for both local and regional markets.

Hale’s ongoing partnership with UNHInnovation ensures that his research extends beyond academic circles, influencing industry practices and enhancing the economic landscape of New England's agricultural sector.

“I did not invent kiwiberries,” says Hale. “There are very many people who came before me, all the way back to rural communities thousands of years ago, who recognized the merits of these species in the wild. I see an award like this as a well-deserved acknowledgement of that long, collective effort to steward plant genetic diversity for the public good.”

The kiwiberry’s potential to become a new high-value crop aligns with Hale’s vision of transforming regional agriculture. His research not only meets consumer demands for high-quality local produce but also boosts the viability of local farms through the creation of new agricultural enterprises and value-added products. “Everyone should eat more weird fruit,” Hale says.

“This kind of long-term, relatively high-risk research lies at the heart of the land-grant university mission.”

The award highlights Hale's significant contributions to agricultural innovation, including a forthcoming commercial license that promises to enhance kiwiberry production and distribution. His collaborative efforts with other universities and several industry partners underline the commercial viability and scalability of his research.

“Research is core to a vibrant, healthy economy,” UNH Provost Wayne Jones said at?the ceremony honoring Hale as Innovator of the Year. “And particularly at UNH, it contributes to the sustainability of the world we live in. Today we are celebrating a colleague who has successfully transitioned his innovations in the lab into social and economic impact.”

Unlike other fields of study, the innovation timeline for plant breeding from initial concept to an improved variety often requires a decade or more of dedicated research. “I believe that this kind of long-term, relatively high-risk research lies at the heart of the land-grant university mission,” says Hale. “It would not be possible without consistent support from our New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and the many people here who ‘just get it.’ UNH is exceptional in that regard.”

“The spirit of the Innovator of the Year Award is to honor the innovator who best embodies the philosophy of translating UNH research into products or services that benefit the public,” says Jenna Matheny, director of technology transfer at UNHInnovation. “We’re very pleased to recognize Dr. Iago Hale for his numerous contributions to his field of research.”

The J. Brent Loy Innovator of the Year Award is named after the late Loy, whose groundbreaking research on cucurbit varieties (squashes, cucumbers and melons) significantly bolstered UNH’s intellectual property and technology transfer initiatives. Like Loy, Hale's work exemplifies the university’s mission to foster innovation that impacts society positively.

“To have my work associated in any way with Dr. Loy is a tremendous honor,” says Hale. “Over his long career, Brent really demonstrated the potential of a public plant breeding program to improve the lives of people, not just in the region, but globally. I work with neglected and underutilized crops, and I aspire in that work to even a fraction of the impact he achieved.”

Learn more about Hale’s kiwiberry research at his Nor’East Kiwiberries website or in this UNH’s SPARK feature.

Jeremy Gasowski | UNH Marketing | jeremy.gasowski@unh.edu | 603-862-4465