Recent graduates from plant breeding programs need more than scientific know-how to support this increasingly important part of the agricultural industry. To be effective plant breeders, they should also be equipped with strong critical thinking and time management skills, and a well-founded work ethic.

This was the conclusion reached by researchers at UC Davis, who surveyed more than 200 experts in the field about the most important components of programs training students to be plant breeders. Experts from all over the world, at both universities and companies, participated in the study.

The experts recommended engaging students in a range of practical research and breeding experiences to build plant breeding skills, according to Cary Trexler, a professor in the UC Davis School of Education, who led the study. In addition, they emphasized the need for students to have experiences in communication, collaboration and teamwork. New plant breeders, the survey respondents said, would also benefit from familiarity with computers, ethics, statistics, policy and law.

Plant breeders play a critical role in the agricultural system. To keep up with projected population growth in the next 40 years, food production must double. At the same time, agricultural land is being converted to subdivisions and pesticide use is losing favor.

Plant breeders are scientists with the ability to tease out the best traits in plants -- either through conventional breeding or molecular science -- to develop varieties that fend off insects and diseases, tolerate drought and maintain or improve crop production while keeping food tasty and inexpensive.

Today, however, there are fewer universities training students to become plant breeders than there were in 1980. Companies are having trouble hiring new breeders and professors who teach plant breeding are not being replenished.

"This study provided an opportunity to those outside the plant-breeding education system to have an equal voice in helping to enhance the training content and experiences of future breeders," said Allen Van Deynze, director of research at the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center and co-founder of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy.

The compiled data will now help educators train high-quality breeders, while still working to retain the individual strength of each particular university. By bringing a wide range of opinions into the program development and curriculum design process, students can be better prepared for the future.

More information about this plant-breeding education study is available at http://sbc.ucdavis.edu.