Breeding and offering efficient and marketable plant varieties

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Ongoing changes in the underlying natural and structural conditions (climate change, agricultural policy, market demands, etc.) represent major challenges for agricultural production, and for plant production in particular. Given the necessity of maintaining or increasing production as resources become scarcer, the availability of high-quality seed and planting material with a suitable genetic potential is a prerequisite for successful plant production, and has a decisive influence on resource efficiency, the environmental impact of production, yields, and the quality of the harvested produce.

Plants and varieties acclimatised to Swiss conditions that are adapted to the changing natural conditions, pathogen- and pest-resistant, and meet the requirements of the sectors and markets, form the basis for sustainable production and resilient cultivation systems. The aim of plant breeding, variety testing and certification is to offer the agricultural sector a wide range of suitable varieties adapted to Switzerland’s needs, for resource-efficient and competitive production. This enables Swiss foods to be produced in a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly manner, and to meet consumer demands in terms of quality and safety.

Scientific Objectives and Research Questions

The general aim of this strategic research field is to provide the Swiss agricultural sector with varieties and clones of cultivated plants which are healthy, adapted to Swiss conditions, make efficient use of natural resources, can cope with abiotic stress, and are resistant to or tolerant of pathogens and pests. These plants must provide high-quality harvests that meet the demands of the sector and market, whether they are intented for human or animal nutrition.

To achieve these aims, we need to:

  1. Develop new varieties of cultivated plants and grapes (plant breeding) that are pest-resistant, and which allow us to conserve resources, limit the use of inputs, and supply crops that meet the demands of the markets
  2. Scientifically characterise new varieties of cultivated plants and grapevine clones (varietal study) in order to capitalise quickly on genetic advances and support ecological intensification as well as the resilience of the production systems
  3. Make healthy, certified seeds and vegetative propagation material available to the sector (certification) in order to support ecological intensification
  4. Meet requests for conservation and characterisation of genetic resources
  5. Identify new plants that are seldom or not yet cultivated in Switzerland and which offer worthwhile prospects in terms of  crop and diversification of nutrition
  6. Evaluate the opportunities and risks associated with new breeding methods (transgenensis and cisgenesis, RNAi, genome editing, CRISPR/Cas system, etc.), genomic selection, ‘speed breeding’, high-throughput phenotyping, etc.)
  7. Evaluate genetically modified (GM) plants in the field.