The many-faced Janus of plant breeding

Michael B. Kantar, Bryan C. Runck, Barath Raghavan, Alison B. Joglekar, Senait Senay, Brian Krohn, Jeffrey Neyhart, James Bradeen, Marybel Soto Gomez, Roger Kjelgren

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Plant breeding is crucial for improving agricultural crops for human use. However, an urgent rethink is needed to ensure the next generation of plant breeders have the necessary breadth of skills to provide ever more efficient, nutritious, profitable, and environmentally sustainable crops. Plant breeding is a multifaceted endeavor, which intersects with many other disciplines and professions. To help ensure that future plant breeding efforts are sustainable and relevant to the needs of society, it is vital that the interdisciplinary nature of the plant breeding profession is adequately reflected in student training and development. Summary. Breeders need to have many faces to understand not only genetics but also environmental, social, and economic factors that are relevant for maintaining or improving crops for human use. In the United States, there is a long history of public involvement in agriculture and plant breeding. However, recent changes in the social systems underpinning public agriculture (i.e., funding structure) necessitate a rethinking of how agriculture education, specifically plant breeding education, should be facilitated. To provide viable plant breeding programs, it is necessary to explicitly acknowledge that breeding has been an interdisciplinary, long-standing public endeavor to increase food system stability. Acknowledging this complexity has important pedagogical implications: the core of plant breeding resides in genetics, but the changing nature of this profession requires breeders to embrace a much broader training. Here, we suggest specific curricular objectives for plant breeders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-309
Number of pages4
JournalPlants People Planet
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For plant breeding programs to be financially sustainable, they need to produce crops that satisfy unmet market needs and can generate sustainable revenue for the program. To establish sustainable research programs, plant breeders need to rigorously evaluate potential crops based on the full value chain of getting the crop to market (from breeder, to farmer, to value added producer, to final customer). Critically, estimating costs, benefits, modes of delivery to consumers, and on‐going engagement with customers will be essential. There are many well developed business models that could be incorporated to achieve stability in future funding. For example, business models such as the Lean Start Up (Reis, ) which rely on a process of validated learning, involving setting a vision, building a product from that vision, measuring potential consumers’ responses to the product, and then learning from consumers to update the initial product. This framework has been widely adopted by the NSF, NIH, and other federal agencies through the Innovation Corps program. In order to help resolve the funding crisis plant breeding is facing and increase the ability of public programs to be self‐sustaining, there is a need to embrace the interdisciplinary nature of the discipline so that the public sector can be flexible and responsive to public goals and desires. build‐measure‐learn

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Plants, People, Planet © New Phytologist Trust


  • food system
  • interdisciplinary
  • plant breeding programs
  • public goods
  • societal preference


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