Biotech Updates

Study Finds Decline in Plant Breeding Programs in the US, Possible Impact on Food Security

August 12, 2020

A team of scientists from Washington State University (WSU) led by Kate Evans who leads WSU's pome fruit (apples and pears) breeding program, found that public plant breeding programs are seeing decreases in funding and personnel. The research team conducted a study of 278 plant breeding programs around the United States. These programs are federal programs, such as those run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or based at public research universities.

In their survey, respondents estimated a 21.4% decline in full time employee (FTE) time for program leaders over the past five years and an estimated 17.7% decline in FTE time for technical support personnel. The research team also found that a significant number of plant breeding program leaders are due to retire soon. Over a third of the responding programs reported having leaders over the age of 60 and 62% are led by people over 50. Evans said this decline is concerning because plant breeding has a direct impact on food security.

The focus on food security has received more attention in the last few months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has moved around the world, Evans said. One reason that plant breeding programs are declining is expense. Evans explains that it takes many years to develop a new variety of a crop, and funding a program for that long requires significant investment.

For more details about this study, read the open-access paper in Crop Science or the article in WSU Insider.

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