Plant breeding is the business, science and art of plant improvement. It enhances the performance and quality of plants in a sustainable manner meeting consumers’ changing demands, preferences and tastes. It is a long-term, high investment business, and needs to be locally based to ensure adaptation to specific environments and market conditions.
While much of the underpinning research to expand our understanding of plant genetics takes place in the public sector, commercial plant breeders – from small independent companies to multinational corporations – provide the only route to market for improved crop varieties.
The past 50 years have seen major changes in UK crop production. A doubling of cereal yields and sugar production, oilseed rape established as the break crop of choice, forage maize adapted for UK growing conditions, and huge diversity in the range of vegetable and ornamental plants.
Plant breeding is at the foundation of these changes; plant breeders are constantly striving to develop improved varieties in the field, in the glasshouse and for the market.
It is the income generated from royalties that sustains the financial commitment to breeding programmes. Intellectual Property mechanisms such as PVR are internationally accepted as a framework to protect and sustain the necessary investment. Plant breeding is a research intensive sector with around one third of income re-invested in R & D in house and through public/private partnerships with the plant science research base in universities and institutes.
Every £1 invested in plant breeding generates at least £40 (DTZ Report, 2010) within the wider food economy in terms of increased productivity, reduced inputs, improved processing efficiency and import substitution.
Through these improvements, plant breeders provide the foundation for a competitive farming industry and a dynamic food chain.
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