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the foundation
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Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Global Plant Breeding

Number of Plant Breeding Students Trained Per Year

Informal Calculation for the U.S. in 2008

Todd C. Wehner and P. Stephen Baenziger

Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609; and Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0915

There is a need for public plant breeders in the U.S., especially because they are the only group that trains new plant breeders. In their survey of students being trained in plant breeding, Guner and Wehner (2003) reported that 770 (783 in the update) plant breeders were trained from 1996 to 2000 at the MS and PhD levels. The survey has been updated to include Montana State University. Based on the revised survey, we need to train 131 (61 MS and 70 PhD) plant breeders per year in graduate programs if we are to meet that level of demand for that 6-year period.

In his study of plant breeding in the U.S., Bliss (2006) estimated a need for 45 to 110 (15 to 35 public and 30 to 75 private) plant breeders per year, assuming a 2 to 5% rate of turnover. The total number of plant breeders needed per year estimated by Bliss is lower than the number actually being trained, according to Guner and Wehner. However, some of the 128 plant breeders are going to jobs overseas, and some of the MS students went on for more training, and were counted again as PhD graduates.

Thus, it appears that the U.S. should be graduating 45 to 131 plant breeding students per year at the MS and PhD levels. A total of 130 students could be trained each year by having 165 students working on their MS, to provide about 59 MS graduates per year (assuming 2.5 years per degree and 10% leaving the country or the degree program), and 275 students working on their PhD (already having completed their MS), to provide about 71 PhD graduates per year (assuming 3.5 years per degree and 10% leaving the country or the degree program).

  • 165 MS candidates / 2.5 years per degree - 10% leaving country or program = 59 MS / year
  • 275 PhD candidates / 3.5 years per degree - 10% leaving country or program = 71 PhD / year
  • 440 total degree candidates = 130 graduate plant breeders / year

The 440 graduate students might be trained universities around the U.S. having various sizes of plant breeding programs. Small programs should have enough students to be able to offer the graduate courses with a minimum of 6 students (18 to 24 students staying for 3 to 4 years each). Universities could be located in different regions of the U.S., and might emphasize different crops (grains, legumes, forages, fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, floricultural and forest trees).

  • 8 small-university plant breeding programs x 20 students each = 160 graduate students
  • 4 medium-sized-university plant breeding programs x 30 students each = 120 graduate students
  • 4 large-university plant breeding programs x 40 students each = 160 graduate students
  • 16 total university plant breeding programs = 440 total graduate students


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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