Seed World

Working Together on Plant Breeding

Public and private plant breeders believe there are opportunities to work together on plant breeding.

While the public and private plant breeding sectors may seem separate, there’s a lot of work the two can collaborate on and do. While they may focus on different sectors or parts of plant breeding, both see opportunities to work together to create the crops farmers want and need.

“In the private sector, plant breeding is a factory to continue delivering new and improved products for the farmers. Collaborating in new technologies and joining efforts on the next thing — that’s something that could be done with the public sector,” Luis Verde, the product development director for North America at Corteva Agriscience, says during the March 8 episode of Seed Speaks.

Corteva, as of the big four plant breeding companies, has access to a wealth of resources when it comes to plant breeding. For Verde, he’s aware of that and knows not everyone working in plant breeding has the opportunities he does, which to him is part of the reason why he sees collaboration between the public and private plant breeding worlds as being important.

At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), they will work on trait development or enhancement along with breeding new crop varieties. François Eudes, the director of research, development and technology in the science and technology branch at AAFC, explains they’ll work on new traits which are then made available for other breeding programs to integrate into their breeding work. He points toward soybean, corn, and canola as crops where the private sector is more established with their breeding programs and therefore better equipped to take genetic material to the market.

When looking at the crops, AAFC does focus on breeding and taking them to a commercial stage, Eudes points out they will focus on crops that may not create profits for larger private companies. In the past, this has helped to drive forward plant breeding work on crops such as canola which are now mainly bred by large private companies.

“I think what is clear is that the private sector is investing in the main crops, call it soybean, corn, sorghum, sunflower, and it’s not logical for the public sector to try to compete. Because they’re going to always come one step behind, I believe in delivering products for the farmers in that area,” Verde explains.

There’s also collaboration to be made on plant breeding technologies. Large multinational companies such as Corteva have access to a lot of new innovations and technologies which public breeders may not be able to due to cost and other prohibitions.

“In the case of the genome editing — which is such a fantastic tool, giving us precision, and accelerating the pace of plant breeding — we do not have the freedom to operate. And so, there’s different ways for us to acquire this. We could seek to get a license or partner, that would be making a lot of sense,” Eudes says.

At the end of the day both breeding streams are focused on creating the best possible crops for farmers making collaboration a good fit.