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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Floral and Nursery Plants Research

Title: Plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment

item Brummer, E Charles
item Barber, Wesley
item Collier, Sarah
item Cox, Thomas
item Johnson, Randy
item Murray, Seth
item Olsen, Richard
item Pratt, Rich
item Thro, Ann Marie

Submitted to: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/1/2012
Publication Date: 5/15/2012
Citation: Brummer, E., Barber, W.T., Collier, S., Cox, T.S., Johnson, R., Murray, S., Olsen, R.T., Pratt, R., Thro, A. 2012. Plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 9:561-568.

Interpretive Summary: Plant breeding plays a unique and crucial role in addressing environmental challenges in the twenty-first century by developing new crops, ornamentals, and trees that meet societal needs. Interdisciplinary crop improvement strategies are clearly needed that include ecological, socioeconomic, and stakeholder input regarding traits to select for developing plant varieties that use fewer inputs, land, and energy resulting in a more sustainable agricultural landscape. We define two general ways that plant breeders address environmental issues. First, by selecting plants that are better-adapted to environmental stresses, productivity can be maintained in the face of variable and inhospitable weather patterns, pest and disease pressures. Second, by developing plants that can alter and improve environments, providing sustainable solutions to ecological dilemmas. Diverse groups, many not traditionally associated with plant breeding or even agriculture, have much to gain by interacting with and supporting plant breeders. Breeding is a powerful tool for meeting today’s environmental challenges because it can develop plant products that simultaneously improve production and the environment.

Technical Abstract: Crop improvements made since the 1950’s coupled with inexpensive agronomic inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, etc.) have resulted in agricultural production that has kept pace with population growth. Breeding programs primarily focus on improving a crop’s environmental adaptability and biotic stress tolerance in order to increase yield. Plant breeders, especially those at public institutions, also have emerging interest in reducing agriculture’s impact and improving the natural environment to provide ecosystem services (e.g., cleaning soil, water and air; carbon sequestration), and creating new agricultural paradigms (e.g., perennial polycultures). Here we discuss recent opportunities and goals of plant breeding and explain how these may be connected to specific interests of ecologists and naturalists. Plant breeding can be a powerful tool to bring harmony between agriculture and the environment, but partnerships between plant breeders, ecologists, urban planners, and policy makers are needed to make this a reality.

Last Modified: 10/16/2017
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