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the foundation
of civilization

Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

Subcommittee - Harmony Between Agriculture and the Environment

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This is the report from the subcommittee on a Harmony with the Environment of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee. It met as part of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee in Cary, North Carolina on February 7-9, 2007.

This report was prepared by:

  • Charlie Brummer
  • Rich Pratt
  • Randy Johnson
  • Goal
    • An agriculture system that is in harmony with the environment
  • Introduction
    • Enhancing the quality of our environment is a recurrent theme in many aspects of our society. In agriculture, we need to develop cultivars of plants that combine with appropriate management strategies to minimize negative impacts on the environment and positively affect the biosphere. From large-scale agronomic and forestry production systems to individual home landscaping and restoration of degraded areas, plant breeding can play a vital role in developing the cultivars and populations that require fewer inputs, particularly of water and fertilizer; are more tolerant of pests, thereby minimizing the need for large amounts of pesticides; and that produce or exhibit the desired traits.
  • Recommendations
    • Because of the variable nature of the environment, with particular concerns being predominant in certain regions of the country, a focus on breeding for the local or regional level is appropriate.  Building linkages with stakeholders is more likely be fruitful when working at the local level.  Public breeders have the ability to work with the triple bottom line, maximizing economic, environmental, and social good.  To achieve their goals, breeders need to develop or join interdisciplinary teams that include related biological and social scientists, ecologists, and farmers, nursery owners, and foresters.  Further, the selection system needs to be tailored to match ecologically sound production systems, not necessarily those in widespread use at the current time.  Ultimately, we suggest that as breeders we attempt to find biological solutions to problems rather than technological fixes.
    • In order to be effective, we need to document the current breeding programs that are clearly working in the public interest to enhance the quality of our environment.  Further, we need to identify audiences that may be responsive to the message that breeding can help enhance harmony with the environment, and probably we should work with a public relations professional to develop materials for this goal.  We could be assisted in the publicity effort by highlighting those examples of publicly developed cultivars that are environmentally desirable, such as salt or drought tolerant grasses.  Ultimately, we need to develop stronger linkages with national program goals to enhance funding in this area.
  • Partnerships
    • The number of possible partnerships is large, ranging from governmental agencies at the federal and state levels to foundations and non-governmental organizations.  Several opportunities appear to be of particular value to this subcommittee beyond the traditionally important groups such as commodity commissions and the Farm Bureau.  First, environmental and conservation groups have typically not been engaged in the plant breeding community, but through this subcommittee, may be more inclined to participate in advancing our agenda.  Some of these groups include Ducks Unlimited, the Audobon Society, and the Sierra Club as well as scientific societies such as the Ecological Society of America.  Additionally, particularly useful linkages should be established with the organic and sustainable farming communities and related groups, including the Seeds and Breeds Plant Breeding group, the Organic Seed Alliance, Organic Seed Partnership, and independent seed growers/companies.  Finally, governmental groups such as the Plant Materials Centers in the National Resources Conservation Service, native plant societies, and state highway departments could play an increased role as they seek improved seeds to revegetate degraded lands, roadsides, or forest fire burns.  Some of these efforts have already taken place in the context of the Plant Conservation Alliance (
  • Strategies
    • We have initiated a series of actions over the next several years to advocate for breeding in harmony with the environment.  These include:
      • Modify existing materials for K-12, 4-H, magnet high schools, and Jr. Master Gardener, and others to bring in breeding topics
      • Develop a database that identifies negative agricultural impacts to environment and explains breeding solutions
      • Publicize successful accomplishments, through university or agency channels, such as:
        • drought tolerant plants
        • salt tolerant
        • abiotic stress
        • disease resistant
        • restoring native plants under attack by exotic pests (elms, chestnut, etc)
      • Organize sessions at professional society meetings
      • Propose CAST write a paper on breeding and the environment
      • Develop white paper for the web site
      • Incorporate ecology into breeding courses
      • Modify student curricula to include ecology and exposure to multiple crops
      • Examine royalty structures and distribution to find some good examples that bring funding back to breeding programs and try to have adopted elsewhere
      • Establish relationships with public broadcasting stations
      • Expand extension linkages
      • Maintain and build public capacity to breed and release cultivars/germplasm and educate breeders
      • Modify long-term breeding goals toward ecological ends and tied to
        • global climate change
        • abiotic and biotic stress tolerance
        • carbon sequestration
        • energy balance for production
      • Coordinate with international breeding groups, such as GIPB, EUCARPIA, ECOPB
      • Write a book
  • Participants in Harmony Between Agriculture and the Environment Subcommittee


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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