Plant breeding is the art and science of adapting plant characteristics to agricultural needs in order to produce more healthy, tasty and nutritious food.
Plant breeders contribute to the continued supply of a wide range of improved plant varieties and to securing our food supply. They help farmers achieve higher yields and obtain crops of superior nutritional value that can be grown more resource-efficiently.
Over time, our understanding of plants and natural science has evolved enormously. Today, smart molecular and agricultural methods help breeders to ensure food quality, to reduce crop losses in the field and food waste, and to address tomorrow’s food challenges.
Thanks to modern agriculture and plant breeding innovation, Europeans enjoy a high quality and plentiful supply of varied crops, fresh fruit and vegetables. Latest plant breeding methods use the power of nature to develop improved plant varieties that better meet consumer demands and address some of the key challenges we face in our food supply chain and in our diets.
Why do we need new plant varieties?
Is securing our food supply really a challenge for the future? Don’t we enjoy an abundance of supply and choice in Europe?
Most Europeans are unaware that the EU currently relies on an area the size of one third of its domestic arable land outside of its own territory to ensure our European food supply.1 With the global population expected to be almost 10 billion by 2050, European and global agricultural output will need to increase significantly over the coming decades. A combined effort of all actors across the food supply chain will be required to find solutions that allow us to produce more food in a sustainable way and to reduce crop loss and food waste e.g. by improving shelf life, distribution and market access.
Yields per hectare will need to increase to an extent that will only be possible with innovation. Latest plant breeding methods contribute to crop improvements that can lead to higher yields, better resistance to plant diseases or longer shelf life, resulting in higher quantities of food produced in less time, with fewer inputs, of a higher quality and at affordable prices.
Around 88 million tonnes of food are lost or wasted annually in the EU, with associated costs estimated at 143 billion Euros.2 Consumers are often unaware that this does not only refer to the food on their plates: Up to 40% of global crop yields are currently lost in the fields to plant pests and diseases and with climate change this percentage is expected to further increase significantly in the years ahead3.
Genetic change is natural: pests and diseases constantly mutate and change which creates a permanent natural threat to farmers’ crops. Like in human medicine it is an everlasting race between new plant varieties that resist these pests, and pests overcoming plant resistance.
It takes plant breeders years to develop a crop variety that can resist a new pest or disease, which means that in the meantime, significant proportions of yields could be lost in the fields and farmers might be obliged to use large amounts of pesticides to reduce these losses.
The latest plant breeding methods help plant breeders speed up the breeding process and significantly shorten the time required to find natural solutions that save yields and may reduce pesticide use.