A plant breeder works in a controlled environment conducting tests on different types of plants, and common industries of employment include government, academia, and food sciences. Entry-level positions in this field require a bachelor's degree in a discipline related to plant science, while career advancement often requires a master's degree or completion of a Ph.D. program.
Plant breeders apply biotechnology and molecular breeding strategies to improve the overall function of various plants and crop systems. Their training and expertise typically includes many different types of plants, including forest crops, field crops and horticultural crops. Graduates in this field might find positions conducting research for a university or the federal government. They may also choose to enter the private sector, performing research for corporations in the food science industry. A bachelor's degree is required to pursue a career as a plant breeder. Obtaining an advanced degree may enhance available career opportunities. Certification that validates expertise in the area of plant breeding is optional, but not required to succeed in the field.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree; master's degree for advancement|
|Other Requirements||Optional certifications available|
|Projected Job Growth||5% from 2014-2024 for all agricultural and food scientists*|
|Average Salary (2015)||$65,980 annually for all soil and plant scientists*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Plant Breeder Job Duties
Plant breeders conduct experiments in environments they can control, such as greenhouses, in an attempt to achieve a specific breeding outcome. Their goals might include developing new types of plants or producing seeds that will lead to greater crop yields.
Plant breeders might cross-pollinate plants within the same gene pool or mutate plants and crops via electronic or gamma-ray stimulus. They might develop cultivation schemes or modify existing research methods to achieve desired results. In addition to their research duties, breeders may be called upon to give speeches or write reports about their findings.
Education Requirements for Plant Breeders
Obtaining a bachelor's degree in plant science or a related field is generally the first step in becoming a plant breeder. A plant science undergraduate curriculum typically includes a variety of plant and chemical-related science courses, such as the following:
- Genetics of plants
- Management of grasses and turfs
Aspiring plant breeders who'd like to pursue a more advanced education might choose a 2-year master's program in plant breeding or plant genetics. Both thesis and non-thesis options are generally available for students who pursue a master's degree in these fields. Courses are likely to include the following:
- Plant breeding evolution and methods
- Microbiology and pathology of plants
- Research methods
- Food crop enhancement
- Biotechnology of plants
- Advanced plant genetics
Some schools also offer plant breeding and plant genetics Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs, which require a dissertation. These are primarily research-oriented programs, and they largely lead to research and teaching careers. A Ph.D. program generally requires courses and seminars in molecular plant biology and advanced breeding styles.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual average salary of $65,980 for all soil and plant scientists, which is the occupational category of a plant breeder. The BLS projected 5% growth for these scientists from 2014-2024.
Plant breeders work in controlled environments, like greenhouses, to develop seeds for stronger crop yields or create new kinds of plant species. Degree programs in this field range from bachelor's degrees to PhDs, and include coursework in subjects like botany, plant genetics and crop enhancement. Certification is available in this field, and there is a 5% predicted increase in job opportunities for agricultural and food scientists between 2014-2024.