Plant breeder: job description

Plant breeders (also known as geneticists) undertake scientific research into plant and crop-based agriculture with the aim of improving plant breeding techniques and developing new strains of crops.

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Plant breeders work to develop disease and drought resistant crops while increasing yields to meet consumer needs.

What does a plant breeder do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Plant breeders improve existing plant varieties or create new ones to improve appearance, resistance to disease, yield and other characteristics. They may work in a commercial, academic or research setting.

Key responsibilities include:

  • setting research aims and objectives
  • producing project plans and budgets
  • researching new methods of plant breeding
  • undertaking laboratory, glasshouse and field trials
  • analysing and interpreting data
  • identifying the best varieties/species
  • selecting parent plants for cross-breeding
  • keeping records of your research and findings
  • presenting scientific findings and other work
  • making presentations
  • writing technical publications and reports
  • keeping up to date with current developments
  • liaising with other plant breeders
  • managing technical staff

Private sector jobs may come with benefits such as a company car, medical insurance and performance-linked pay. Opportunities for overseas work occur occasionally, although previous international experience may be required, and vacancies are often temporary.

Typical employers plant breeders

  • Commercial plant breeding companies
  • Specialist seed producers
  • Biotechnology and genetic engineering firms
  • International research institutes
  • Government research agencies
  • The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • The Department for International Development

Jobs are advertised by careers services and specialist recruitment agencies, in local/national newspapers and publications including New Scientist , Nature , Farmers Weekly , Scottish Farmer , The Grower and their respective websites. Applications to jobs should be made as early as possible and speculative applications are advisable, for which information produced by the British Society of Plant Breeders may be useful.

Qualifications and training required

A degree in biological sciences, biotechnology, botany, genetics, agriculture, horticulture or crop or plant science is normally required. A relevant postgraduate qualification may also be necessary. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

Relevant agricultural/field trials/plant breeding work experience is particularly beneficial.

Entry with a higher national diploma (HND) is possible for those seeking technical support roles. However, further qualifications would be needed to progress to the role of plant breeder.

Key skills for plant breeders

  • Ability to work independently
  • Excellent research skills
  • Ability to manage a laboratory
  • Patience and resilience
  • Good communication skills
  • Technical skills
  • Analytical skills

A full driving licence may be required.

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