Public-sector plant breeders (for example, at public universities) have developed crops for better productivity. As a result, more food is available to feed a growing population. This research and innovation requires funding. But funding -- and revenue from the crops developed -- is increasingly hard to obtain. In response, a group of plant breeders met in 2016 to discuss best practices. Julie Dawson, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is lead author of a recent paper summarizing their recommendations. Intellectual property rights can protect crop varieties. And licensing can provide revenue to support further developments. But certain types of intellectual property rights can restrict plant breeders from sharing plant materials. That can limit innovation across the board. Finding a balance between these needs is tricky. It's also important: "Crop breeding is critical for the future of agriculture," says Dawson. "Plant breeding programs benefit farmers everywhere. They also benefit anyone who eats." The group has three recommendations. They suggest developing best practices for revenue sharing. They advocate for increased funding for public programs. They also suggest establishing professional standards for sharing plant breeding materials. Historically, many crop varieties were released to the public with almost no restrictions. "But budgets are getting tighter," says Dawson. "Grant funding is also becoming more competitive. Public sector plant breeders need to seek other sources of revenue." (Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily. Carrot Breeder Philipp Simon (USDA-ARS, Madison WI) and graduate student Charlene Grahn explain their selection for stronger and more vigorous tops to improve carrot competition with weeds and ease of mechanical harvest. This complex trait is important for both conventional and organic production.
Photo Credit: Micaela Colley / Organic Seed Alliance