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New CAST Issue Paper: "Plant Breeding and Genetics"

March 22, 2017...Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.

Many think it is time for another green revolution, one that utilizes technological innovation in smart, sustainable ways. Humans depend on plants for food, feed, fiber, and fuel—as well as less tangible aspects of life such as aesthetics and environmental stability. This paper is the first in a series that connects science and technology to agriculture, and it focuses on the critical importance of innovation in plant breeding to meet the challenge of providing food and nutritional security to humankind.

The ultimate goal of plant breeding is to develop improved crops through enhanced productivity, processing, marketing, and quality. The authors of this issue paper use science-based information and peer-review methods to establish the importance of plant breeding innovation, and they cover several key areas:

  •     The science of plant breeding and genetics
  •     The need for encouraging the next generation of scientists
  •     The current role of government policy and regulations
  •     The need for cooperation and collaboration at all levels, including the public-private nexus

The ultimate goal of plant breeding is to improve crop performance for traits or defined characteristics, and this paper outlines current practices and future developments—homozygous lines, phenotyping, hybridization, and many other scientific innovations. In our increasingly connected world, the process also includes computers, big data, and the transfer of technologies.

As the global nature of food security becomes more entwined, several key aspects of plant breeding take on increased importance: (1) government regulations need to be science-based, harmonious, and synchronous; (2) international trade is crucial to promote productivity and spread the benefits; (3) financial investment needs to come from all sectors; (4) common sense intellectual property protection will attract investors; (5) farmers must be actively involved in the implementation of the technology; and (6) consumers need to understand, trust, and accept their sources of food.    

According to most agriculturalists, investing in plant breeding is “growing our future.” This paper provides factual information for the public and policymakers alike as the world faces an increased need for secure food. Game-changing crop technologies are an important part of the continued transformation to make agriculture a major contributor to ecosystem integrity while feeding the world.

The "Plant Breed and Genetics" CAST Issue Paper and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website,, along with many of CAST's other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are free.

Task Force Authors:
P. Stephen Baenziger (Cochair), University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Rita H. Mumm (Cochair), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rex Bernardo, University of Minnesota, St.Paul
E. Charles Brummer, University of California-Davis
Peter Langridge, University of Adelaide, Australia
Philipp Simon, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Stephen Smith, Iowa State University

P. Stephen Baenziger—Phone: 402-472-9497; Email: pbaenziger1(at)unl(dot)edu
Rita H. Mumm—Phone: 217-244-9497; Email: ritamumm(at)illinois(dot)edu
Kent Schescke—Phone: 515-292-2125, ext. 231; Email: kschescke(at)cast-science(dot)org

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CAST is an international consortium of scientific and professional societies, companies, and nonprofit organizations. Through its network of experts, CAST assembles, interprets, and communicates credible, balanced, science-based information to policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

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