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Summit findings showcase best practices for sustaining public plant breeding

How can public plant breeding programs reap royalties and research investments while keeping their cultivars in the public domain? This is one of the challenges addressed at the Intellectual Property Rights for Public Plant Breeding Summit, a two-day event held in conjunction with the National Association of Plant Breeders’ annual meeting last year and attended more than 50 professionals representing 36 institutions and 25 states. The full proceedings of the summit have now been released.

Over the past 20 years, reports have documented the decrease in public plant breeding programs, breeding positions and government support. Public breeding programs typically focus on crops with high social returns to investment but low private returns, such as small grains and perennials. They support underserved markets and often times are invested in “long-arc” research, where the payoff may require years of work. Inconsistent polices governing how germplasm is exchanged compound these issues and slow progress. Given these realities and the importance of public breeding programs, the summit provided participants opportunities to discuss ideas and remedies.

“For many years now, we have heard how public plant breeding has been on the decline,” says Bill Tracy, conference organizer and professor of agronomy at UW-Madison. “What was exciting about this meeting is that we heard real-world solutions implemented by colleges and technology transfer agencies that not only support current cultivar development but have increased the number of plant breeders, crop varieties released and royalties generated.”

Summit proceedings that were recently released include papers by keynote speakers as well as recommendations for best practices and royalty-sharing models that hold promise for bolstering public cultivar development. Participant-developed recommendations for addressing germplasm exchange and funding constraints in public sector breeding programs include the need to:

  • Develop a professional standard similar to the wheat workers code of ethics for exchanging and releasing germplasm from public sector breeding programs.
  • Develop best practices for dispersing royalty revenue to plant breeding programs and for joint releases of cultivars from collaborative plant breeding projects.
  • Increase Farm Bill support for cultivar development at public institutions, including increasing base funding for programs and the availability of competitive grants.

Tracy sees the outcomes of the conference as positive with a clear path forward. “These are solutions that can be implemented anywhere, and we are planning on working with plant breeding colleagues, research administrators and technology transfer professionals to reinvigorate public cultivar development,” he says. “We now know there is a way to do it—we just need the will.”

The Intellectual Property Rights for Public Plant Breeding Summit was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture (under award number 2017-67013-25922) and Clif Bar Family Foundation’s Seed Matters initiative, with operational support provided by the National Association of Plant Breeders.

Find the full proceedings at this link:

The Intellectual Property Rights for Public Plant Breeding Summit was identified as a priority coming out of another event focused on public plant breeding: The 2014 Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture Summit. For more background on this event and to read the proceedings, visit

For more information, contact Bill Tracy at or (608) 262-2587.