Lack of Plant Breeding Scientists Creates Global Food Security Challenges


The CSIRO, New Zealand’s Lincoln University, and McGill University in Canada have warned that a shortage of plant breeding scientists could create global food security issues.

The three research bodies have released a joint paper on the problem, saying their findings have painted a concerning picture about future capacity in the plant breeding area. Plant breeding is a multidisciplinary science that underpins the global production of food, animal feed, fuel and fibre.

The paper argues that the science skills shortage needs to be urgently addressed if the planet is to maintain its level of agrifood, fibre, and feed production.

“What we’re seeing is a whole generation of highly-skilled plant breeding specialists who are now reaching retirement age, with a gap left as university graduates opt to focus on other areas of plant science, including molecular biology,” said lead author and CSIRO scientist Dr Lucy Egan. “The implications of this shortage could be dire, including affecting global food security and the economies of different countries worldwide, including Australia.”

Lincoln University’s Dr Rainer Hofmann said the situation is similar across the Tasman. “Agricultural production plays such a key role for our country, and so it’s really important we start looking at strategies to slow this skills shortage,” said Hofmann. “Our research looked at the current state of plant breeding across tertiary, government and industry sectors and found that decreasing skills in plant breeding will have flow-on effects for a wide range of agrifood and fibre sectors.”

The report has highlighted several responses to the skills shortage, including the need for a coordinated approach between the public and private sectors.

McGill University’s Dr Valerio Hoyos-Villegas said one key to addressing the shortage would be establishing dedicated training facilities in different countries. “We also need more focus on graduate programs in plant breeding and increased private sector involvement if we are to keep pace with emerging scientific and technological advances in the sector,” he said. “Due to the long-term nature and the variety of agricultural industries plant breeding serves, it is important that funding and research become a matter of priority, with modernised plant breeding education top of mind.”

The paper, Cultivating Success: Bridging the Gaps in Plant Breeding Training in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, was published in Crop Science.


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