Become a Plant Breeding Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Explore the requirements to become a plant breeding technician. Learn about job duties and work environments, and check out the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in plant breeding. View article »

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  • 0:00 Plant Breeding Technicians
  • 1:51 Step 1: Earn a Degree
  • 2:33 Step 2: Enter the Workforce
  • 3:15 Step 3: Pursue Certification
  • 4:12 Step 4: Continuing Education
  • 4:46 Step 5: Earn a Graduate Degree

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Video Transcript

Plant Breeding Technicians

Plant breeding technicians use sciences, including genetics, plant pathology, and agronomy to improve plants and create new varieties. They might specialize in ornamental plants, food crops, or other plant types. Plant breeding technicians work in a range of fields, including agronomy, botany, horticulture, plant genetics, and biotechnology.

Jobs in this field involve plant research and experiments to reach goals dictated by the plant breeding technician's specialties. For example, they might analyze agricultural crops to increase crop nutrition and yields as well as to improve resistance to diseases, weeds, adverse weather conditions, and insects. Other plant breeding technicians might work at creating a new color variation for a specific garden flower.

Like agricultural and food technicians, plant breeding technicians might work in an air-conditioned office or climate-controlled laboratory. Those working outside will most likely have to deal with various weather conditions. Most technicians work regular business hours, though some need a flexible schedule to accommodate travel.

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree; graduate degree needed for many research and teaching jobs
Degree Field Acceptable majors include agricultural science, agronomy, and plant sciences
Certification Optional certification awarded by professional associations
Key Skills Good data analysis, observation, and problem solving skills; ability to use spreadsheets and related software
Salary (2015) $36,480 per year (median salary for all agricultural and food science technicians)*
Job Growth Employment opportunities for technicians were expected to increase by 5%, or as fast as average, between 2014 and 2024.*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Crop Science Society of America, Cornell University, American Society of Agronomy, O*NET OnLine

Let's take a look at the steps involved that can help you grow your career as a plant breeding technician.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Most plant breeding technicians earn an associate's or a bachelor's degree. Aspiring technicians may major in a range of fields. Acceptable majors include agricultural science, agronomy, botany, horticulture, plant sciences, and related fields. The curriculum will vary depending on the chosen major, but courses could include plant genetics and nutrition, agricultural biotechnology, biochemistry, pest control, and soil science. Degree programs typically involve classroom studies plus experience in greenhouses and labs. Students might complete internships during plant breeding undergraduate programs.

Step 2: Enter the Workforce

Plant breeding technicians may work for botanical gardens, educational institutions, farms, parks, or the government. Examples of job titles include lab technician, travel assistant, plant scientist, and crop consultant.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Plant breeding technicians can find important networking opportunities and other benefits by joining organizations that reflect their chosen career paths and areas of expertise. Options include membership in the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), the National Association of Plant Breeders, the Crop Science Society of America, and/or the Botanical Society of America.

Step 3: Pursue Certification

Plant breeding technicians seeking to highlight their professional achievements and advance in the workplace can earn voluntary certifications from professional organizations such as the American Society of Agronomy, including the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) or Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg).

To qualify as a Certified Crop Advisor, applicants need at least a bachelor's degree in agriculture and two years of experience. Candidates without a degree qualify with four years of experience. To be eligible for the Certified Professional Agronomist credential, applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in agronomy or a similar field and five years of experience. Applicants with a master's degree need three years' experience, while candidates with a doctoral degree need one year of experience. Applicants for both credentials must pass two tests and meet ethical standards to earn certification.

Step 4: Continuing Education

Certified plant breeding technicians must fulfill continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials and stay current with developments in their fields. Certified individuals can earn continuing education credits through college classes, seminars, workshops, and online studies. A Certified Crop Adviser must accumulate a minimum of 40 continuing education units every two years. A Certified Professional Agronomist must earn a minimum of 50 continuing education units every two years.

Step 5: Earn a Graduate Degree

Plant breeding technicians can advance their career by pursuing a graduate degree, which is required for research and teaching jobs. Areas of study for master's or doctoral students include horticultural science, plant breeding, and crop science. Coursework will depend upon the area of study, but potential classes may include topics in plant evolution and pathology, biotechnology, and genetics. Graduate students usually complete research and present the results in a thesis or dissertation.

We've covered a lot of information in this lesson, so let's review. Plant breeding technicians usually have a bachelor's degree in agricultural science, agronomy, botany, horticulture, or plant sciences. As agricultural and food science technicians, they earned a median annual salary of $36,480 in May 2015.

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