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the foundation
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Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

News Release from North Carolina State University

May 23, 2007

(return to PBCC main page)

News from:
The Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (

Media Contacts:
Dr. Stephen Baenziger, Professor, University of Nebraska, 402.472.1538 or
Dr. Philipp Simon, Professor, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University of Wisconsin, 608.262.1248 or
Dr. Todd Wehner, Professor of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, 919.515.5363 or
Dr. Ann Marie Thro, National Program Leader for Plant Breeding and Genetics, Plant and Animal Systems Unit, Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), U.S. Department of Agriculture, 202.401.6702 or

Nation's Plant Breeders Take a Stand

Plant breeders across the country have joined forces to address an alarming decline in interest and funding for plant breeding.

Nearly 160 plant breeders from the public sector (universities, agricultural experiment stations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), the private sector (seed companies, agricultural commodity associations and NGOs), and international representatives met earlier this year in North Carolina to explore ways to restore the vitality of this critical component of the nation's science, technology and business.

The number of plant breeders, particularly at public universities, has decreased substantially over the last 20 years, said Ann Marie Thro of the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Surveys in 1996 and 2005 show that breeding of some important specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables has declined dramatically. Additionally, as public breeding efforts on all crops have declined, so has the ability of university programs to educate and train future breeders.

There is strong demand in the private sector for plant breeders with advanced degrees and for support scientists with training and experience in breeding-related activities, said Fred Bliss, senior director of research and development special projects/NAFTA commercial research coordinator, with Seminis, the world's largest developer, grower and marketer of fruit and vegetable seed. With large numbers of breeders nearing retirement in the next decade, the supply of new breeders is not likely to meet demand in the private sector, where two-thirds of the U.S. breeders are employed.

At the three-day workshop in North Carolina, breeders formed a national coordinating committee that will work through U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to strengthen the nation's plant breeding capacity by encouraging improvements in infrastructure and education. The committee, chaired by Dr. Stephen Baenziger, a plant breeder at the University of Nebraska, will also raise awareness about the contributions of plant breeding to science and technology and stress the value of new plant varieties developed by breeders to economic and rural development, environmental stewardship, human and animal health, and emerging bio-fuel opportunities.

While establishing a coordinating committee representative of a cross-section of U.S. breeders was a primary goal of the meeting, most of the workshop was devoted to discussing the critical role of plant breeding in the nation's future. Leading experts presented talks on the contributions of plant breeding to the strategic goals established by USDA for American agriculture and rural communities.

Plant breeders play a critical role in using science and technology to develop, test and deliver new plant varieties to the world's farmers and producers of plant-based products. With rapid advances in molecular genetics and manipulation of plants at the molecular level through genetic transformation, classical plant breeding programs and professional breeders are needed more than ever to assure full integration of emerging technologies with effective development and distribution of new products.

While staffing to capture funding opportunities in molecular biology has increased at public universities, support for plant breeding in the public sector has dwindled. The expression of many critically important plant traits, such as crop yield, is a complex interaction between the genetic make-up of the plant and the environment. The improvement of these traits rests not only on manipulation of individual genes but also on the use of classic hybridization, selection and testing to determine whether the new progenies contain the desired combination of traits from their parents.

Plant breeders point to long-term studies that show most U.S. crops have seen steady, dramatic yield increases over the last 75 years that are due in large part to genetic improvement from selection and development by plant breeders. When combined with better production practices, these improvements resulted in pesticide use reductions, more efficient water and nutrient use and higher profitability. New crop variety development has made farmers more productive and profitable while lowering food costs.

The North Carolina meeting was held in Research Triangle Park and was hosted by faculty members in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University in nearby Raleigh. The meeting was co-organized by Thro of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a team from North Carolina State University and other plant breeding organizations. Thro is National Program Leader for Plant Breeding and Genetics with the Plant and Animal Systems Unit of the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. More information about the meeting and plant breeding in general can be found on the Global Plant Breeding Web site:

Written by:
Dave Caldwell
North Carolina State University


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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