A Hidden Cost of Plant Breeding Staff Turnover – Will it Impact You?

- Dieter Mulitze

If any of your plant breeders were to suddenly and unexpectedly leave your organization, would it be a smooth transition for the new breeder? Or would the change be a devastating blow to your new product pipeline, putting years of R&D progress at risk because there was no succession plan for your breeding program information?

Businesses of all sizes routinely develop detailed succession plans to assure the availability of experienced and capable employees who are prepared to assume leadership roles as they become available. Succession planning for a breeding program assures that the program’s data, records, observations and pedigrees are organized and readily available to new leadership and breeders so that the program can continue with minimal transitional cost or disruption.

Simply having pages and pages of field notes or a computer full of Excel data files is not effective succession planning. Such collections are not even an effective source of information. When plant breeders eventually make the million-dollar decisions as to which new hybrids to release and which to discard, they want to rely on the best information available from an all-inclusive relational database.

An unexpected change in plant breeding leadership can cost thousands of dollars in time spent to reconstruct a useable record of R&D data if the information is a hodge-podge of notes and files. Without proper succession planning, a new plant breeder may have to spend weeks or even months organizing Excel files and field notes ideally into one relational database as a more efficient way forward. If there is no one to sort out what has happened – typically with little or no documentation – the existing data become meaningless. A U.S. seed company’s R&D program was recently delayed by one growing season because they had to regrow plants after the succeeding plant breeder was unable to decipher his predecessor’s data. That’s probably the worst-case scenario – and really costly!

Organizing a breeding program’s data into a single relational database yields benefits even without a change in leadership. Colleagues using the same database can work as a team instead of as individuals working in isolation – with any new breeder more quickly “coming up to speed” and being fully productive to everyone’s benefit. An organized system will standardize how pedigrees are written, among many other advantages. When marketing inbred lines, an integrated program can immediately provide answers to questions about performance related to a wide variety of environments, something not easily achieved when using assorted Excel files or a flat file system.

Each successful breeding program has many moving parts. Succession planning with a relational database eliminates the risks and costs of not having an integrated data succession plan even before there is an unexpected change in the program’s leadership. Such changes are inevitable – plan now to minimize the costs.