Plant Breeder: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 22, 2019

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.

Essential Information

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 (2018-2028)* 8% for all soil and plant scientists
Average Salary (2018)* $70,630 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:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Genetics of plants
  • Soils
  • Management of grasses and turfs
  • Entomology

Advanced Education

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 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual average salary of $70,630 for all soil and plant scientists, which is the occupational category of a plant breeder. The BLS projected 8% growth for these scientists from 2018-2028.

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 an 8% predicted increase in job opportunities for soil and plant scientists between 2018-2028.

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