Plant breeders/geneticists work to improve the quality and performance of existing agricultural and horticultural crops as well as create new varieties. They aim to develop useful traits, such as disease resistance or drought tolerance, or to improve characteristics such as appearance. Their role is vital to the agricultural industry as there are constant challenges to meet market requirements, consumer demands and increase and maintain yields in important crops.

Plant geneticists have enhanced the traditional work of crossing existing plants and selecting new strains. Their expertise allows quicker, more accurate work by selecting the plants containing the genes of interest.

What responsibilities will I have?

  • Produce research aims and objectives, and predict the costing of the work
  • Research methods and techniques for improving plant breeding
  • Identify and select plants exhibiting desirable traits, based on natural genetic variation
  • Cross plants to produce new breeding material for field and glasshouse trials
  • Analyze and scientifically assess plant breeding in laboratory and field trials and selecting the best varieties
  • Conduct scientific projects, which may be laboratory based, especially in the winter months
  • Multiply up and produce virus-free plants
  • Maintain detailed records throughout the research and development cycle
  • Managing, support and train technical and field staff
  • Keep up to date in the fast-moving area of science and translating ideas from scientific literature into new approaches to breeding problems
  • Monitoring the activities of competitors (in commercial settings) and developing a product market profile
  • Respond to enquiries from farmers, agronomists and other professionals
  • Write and present work to other scientists and publishing scientific findings
  • Liaise with and visit other scientists, commercial breeders and funding bodies.

What education and training is required?

A bachelor’s degree in agriculture, biology, biotechnology, botany and plant science, crop and plant science, genetics, horticulture or molecular biology.  A masters of PhD is required for advanced beyond technical support.

To pursue a career as an Plant Geneticist:

The following high school courses are recommended:  environmental science, biology, chemistry.

Typical Employers:

Government research agencies, commercial plant breeding companies and genetic engineering firms.

Future Job Market/Outlook:

Plant genetics is a specialized field, and because of this the number of vacancies is low, but so is the pool of applicants. This means that those with relevant experience (perhaps through a summer job or placement with a plant breeding company), and relevant subjects of study have a reasonable chance of securing a position.  An 8% growth is predicted between 2012 and 2022 for all plant and soil scientists.

Suggested Professional Organizations and Associations:

  • National Association of Plant Breeders