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the foundation
of civilization

Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Global Plant Breeding

Plant Breeding Symposium: Who will train plant breeders?

Michigan State University, March 2005

  • Current problems
    • Declining number of public plant breeding programs
    • Declining number of plant breeding students
  • How should future plant breeders be trained?
    • U.S. land grant universities (training 6 or more plant breeding graduate students per year)
    • Guest speakers
      • Stephen Baenziger: Public sector
      • Fred Bliss: Private sector
      • Gurdev Khush: International sector
      • Michael Morris: Public vs. private
      • Elcio Guimaraes: Worldwide capacity
      • Paul Gepts: Summary
  • Training plant breeders for public sector (Baenziger)
    • Survey: 2206 plant breeders in U.S.
      • 68% private sector, 32% public sector
      • 75% agronomic crops, 25% horticultural crops
      • 60% of effort on cultivar development, 20% on germplasm, 20% on research
    • Plant breeding courses
    • Research methods
    • Obtaining grant support
    • Winning tenure and promotion
  • Training plant breeders for public sector (Bliss)
    • Most private plant breeding jobs in large companies, and in companies with 1-2 breeders
      • Cost: $250,000 to $400,000 / program / year
      • Salary: $40,000 to $135,000 / breeder / year
    • New breeders needed:
      • 2% turnover rate: 30 private, 14 public = 44 total
      • 5% turnover rate: 75 private, 35 public = 110 total
      • Actually training (Guner and Wehner survey): 30 per year
    • Major courses needed:
      • Breeding methods, Qualitative genetics, Quantitative genetics, Plant pathology, Statistics, Project management, Molecular genetics, Plant physiology
    • Other courses needed:
      • Intellectual property rights, Genomics, Proteomics, Cytogenetics, Ethics, Bioinformatics, Mechanization, Computerization
  • International Plant Breeding (Khush)
  • Public vs Private Plant Breeding (Morris)
    • Education is strategic: most universities
    • Training is tactical: U.S. land grant universities, seed companies, International Agricultural Research Centers, National Agricultural Research Centers
    • Funding for plant breeding
      • Public funds: decreasing
      • CGIAR funding: peaked in 1989
      • Private funds: increasing
  • World Plant Breeding Capacity (Guimaraes)
    • FAO survey of plant breeding in Africa
      • 7 to 52 breeders / country
      • Most M.S. degree level, some Ph.D. degree level breeders
      • Most do cultivar trials, some do biotechnology research
  • Discussion and Conclusions (Participants)
    • Plant breeding training needed by graduate students:
      • Plant breeding courses
      • M.S. and Ph.D. research
        • Field and greenhouse experience
      • Training in teaching methods; extension experience
    • Other plant breeding training needed:
      • Non-degree certificate program
      • Skills update for plant breeders on the job
      • Annual conferences on plant breeding
    • How to handle plant breeding with minor crops
      • Minor crops
        • Grown on small area
        • Specialty crops
        • Subsistence crops (important in developing countries)
      • Usually not covered by CGIAR centers
      • Little profit, so not covered by private companies
      • Most work done by public breeders with public funding
  • Summary (Gepts)
    • Public vs. private plant breeders
      • Plant breeding graduate students should have the same training
      • Career paths may involve work in both private and public sector
    • Plant breeding is local; technology is global
      • Biotechnology is a tool, not a goal (see Harlan quote)
    • Future job market: good for private breeders, not for public breeders
    • Needs:
      • More pubic funding
      • More private and public cooperation
      • Freedom to operate, considering increased intellectual property rights
  • Future work needed (from this symposium)
    • Plant breeding brochure
    • New funding for plant breeding
      • Grower check-off programs
      • U.S. federal training grants
      • CGIAR center internships
      • Endowments from interested donors
      • U.S. competitive grants for applied agricultural research
    • Plant breeding website (see
    • Expand role of private industry (ASTA, NCCPB)
    • Develop a plant breeding association
    • Develop outreach programs to schools, seed savers, the public
    • Publish a proceedings of this meeting


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Department of Horticultural ScienceBox 7609North Carolina State UniversityRaleigh, NC 27695-7609(919) 515-7416

Page citation: Wehner, T.C. Global Plant Breeding, 30 March 2005;
design by C.T. Glenn; send questions to T.C. Wehner; last revised on 30 September, 2009