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Lab exploring methods of plant breeding. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Breeding Food Crops for The Future

Nifa Authors
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

Plant diseases, insects and a changing climate pose ongoing challenges to food crop producers. 

Breeding crops suited for these challenges as well as the future will require new traits, breeding platforms built for quick transfer of traits to cultivars, coordinated efforts in public and private domains, and training for current and future plant breeders and researchers. To address those challenges, USDA’S National Institute of Food and Agriculture maintains a broad plant breeding, genetics and genomics portfolio. Through these programs, NIFA supports the latest research to ensure that U.S. agriculture is prepared to meet the grand challenges facing the world. 

Here are a few examples of NIFA-supported projects.

  • Researchers in Pennsylvania gathered data from 67 countries on losses sustained by five major food crops: rice, wheat, maize, soybean and potato. The data can be used to develop disease- and pest-resistant crop varieties. Pennsylvania State University project supported by Hatch funds.
  • Scientists in Washington are developing new quinoa varieties with improved heat tolerance. Washington State University project supported by USDA Competitive Grant and Hatch funds.
  • In Iowa, researchers have made a breakthrough in doubled haploid technology that will allow more efficient development of crops with desired traits. (Haploid describes a cell that contains a single set of chromosomes.) This discovery has major implications for crop breeding research and techniques, overcoming a major barrier to the supply of hybrid crops that breeders can generate and provide to growers. Iowa State University project supported by AFRI funds.
  • Extension scientists in New York are breeding strawberries, raspberries and blackberries that can be grown in cold climates. Several new varieties are now being grown commercially. Cornell University project supported by Smith-Lever funds. 
  • In Louisiana, the rice breeding program at LSU AgCenter has developed new rice varieties showing durable resistance to widespread rice diseases, resulting in increased yield and profitability for rice farmers globally. Specifically, the new hybrid has already resulted in up to 15% more grain yield versus inbred varieties. Louisiana State University project supported by Hatch funds.
  • In New Mexico, scientists have been evaluating table and wine grapes since 2007 with plantings of hybrid and Vitis vinifera entries to assess adaptability and marketability of the grapes at a high elevation. The work informs site-specific varietal recommendations for vineyards facing high frost risk in low-lying river valleys and viniferous cultivars for irrigated upland mesa sites. New Mexico State University project supported by Hatch funds.
  • Over the past five years, Georgia breeders have released seven soybean cultivars and six soybean germplasm selected for disease and insect resistance and other key agronomic traits. University of Georgia project supported by Hatch funds. 
  • In New Hampshire, a rigorous breeding program for Tartary buckwheat could enhance regional food security and provide economic opportunities for local farmers. University of New Hampshire project supported by Hatch Multistate funds.
  • An Alabama research team is selecting water-saver peanut cultivars that can be tailored to produce higher yields under different environments in the Southeast. Auburn University project supported by USDA Competitive Grant funds.
Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products
U.S. States and Territories
New Hampshire
New Mexico
New York

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