Plant breeders and geneticists experiment with plant species using advanced genetics expertise, tools and techniques. They do so with the objectives of increasing crop yields, developing new horticultural strains for commercial enterprises, improving species’ resistance to pests and disease and their chances of survival in extreme conditions and habitats.
This isn’t necessarily done out of environmentalist motives: geneticists’ interventions will make crops taste nicer and last longer! Essentially, these guys have to consider the commercial utility of each plant and product throughout their research and experimentation, in order to gain the optimal benefits.
Plant breeders and geneticists are employed in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, horticulture and commercial and public sector companies engaged in food production, as well as the pharmaceutical and bioscience industries. They can also work in many different settings, such as government and regulatory bodies, research institutes and the academy.
The industry is represented by the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB), membership of which is restricted to corporate entities and institutions.
Breeding and genetics are expensive and capital-intensive operations, requiring massive financial investments over a long period of time, with returns realised over decades. Hence, most jobs in this field are funded by private and government sectors or through academic and research grants.
Salary & benefits
The average salary for personnel with only a few years of experience is £24,000.
With around five years’ experience, it grows to £31,000, with upwards of £40,000 as you progress beyond that.
Benefits for those working in the private sector might typically include pensions, health insurance and a company car.
Plant breeding and the development of new strains or genetically modified crops is a long process with no immediate results. Working hours are long and irregular during peak planting seasons for a variety of plants and crops.
Frequent travel within the UK for conferences and workshops with other professionals is common.
Academic requirements for plant geneticists or breeder roles are an upper 2:1 or higher honours degree in agriculture, biology, biotechnology, botany and plant science or other related disciplines.
A postgraduate or doctoral degree, as well as some relevant work experience, provides an edge in the recruitment process. A full and valid driving licence is necessary for employees engaged in field and lab work.
Training & progression
Development exercises are mainly facilitated by ‘on-the-job’ monitoring and guidance provided by line managers and experienced colleagues in the department.
Employees in commercial research and development facilities and state-funded research organisations receive training via structured programmes, including rotations across various functions, as well as technical, scientific and soft-skills courses and a longer placement in the chosen area of specialisation.
Career development is driven by performance, qualifications and professional experience. Completing an advanced degree programme from accredited institutions and publishing your innovative research and development work in trade and academic journals are fast-track routes to promotions and jobs with increased managerial responsibilities.