Innovation though development and commercialization of new cultivars has become an increasingly important strategy to enhance economic sustainability of U.S. specialty crop industries, including those producing and processing rosaceous crops. This botanical family is of considerable economic importance and includes a range of crops with diverse end uses: almond, apple, caneberry, cherry, pear, peach, plum, strawberry, and ornamentals such as rose. New rosaceous cultivars with superior performance and market acceptance provide advantages to all parties in the supply chain with products that are more desirable, available, affordable, healthful, and safer. However, breeding programs in rosaceous crops face numerous constraints. Development, evaluation, and commercialization require significant financial, human, and time resources, especially for those crops with long juvenility, like almond, apple, cherry, peach, and plum (Fuglie and Walker, 2001). Even crops with relatively short juvenility, like berries, require considerably more horticultural management resources than annual vegetable and row crops. In many cases, the lag time from initial cross to commercial cultivar is greater than 20 years. Thus, any strategy to accelerate the breeding process and make it more efficient has high potential economic impact for producers and processors.
There are no studies reporting how rosaceous crop breeding programs establish priorities for selection targets or whether a strategic approach using socioeconomic analysis of trait values would provide analytical insight. It seems likely that breeders establish priorities based primarily on their experience, insights, and interaction with their direct stakeholders–crop producers. However, no scientific literature or even non-technical studies exist to assess the validity of this view. To successfully anticipate demand and provide the marketplace with desirable and innovative cultivars for the fresh or processing market, it would seem breeding programs should be linked with all relevant supply chain parties, including consumers. However, we do not know these priorities and they may in fact be in conflict, which could create a most difficult challenge to breeders when setting program priorities.
Genetic and genomic technologies applicable to rosaceous breeding have improved considerably over recent decades (Brown, 2003). The use of DNA information and techniques like marker-assisted breeding (MAB) can potentially make breeding programs more efficient in the use of financial, human, and time resources (Alpuerto et al., 2009; Luby and Shaw, 2001). In MAB, mating and selection decisions are informed both by the observable parental traits (their phenotypes) and by genetic knowledge of the DNA information they carry (their genotypes). However, because implementing this technology requires substantial knowledge and investment in human and physical resources, it is most gainfully applied to high-priority traits. Thus, when determining the target traits for a breeding program, it would be advantageous to identify and account for all supply chain parties: growers, packers, processors, marketers, and consumers.
The objective of this study is to understand how rosaceous crop breeders evaluate the importance of traits and what factors, including interested parties in the supply chain, significantly influence the likelihood of selection for each trait in their breeding programs. This information will also provide a baseline for a larger study to compare priorities assigned by rosaceous crop breeders and by supply chain parties.
There is scant literature relevant to this area of inquiry. Frey (1996) conducted a survey to assess the size of public and private plant breeding programs in the United States. He found that a total of 2241 science person-years were devoted to plant breeding with 66% working for private companies, 24% for state and agricultural experiment stations, and 10% for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Frey (1996) also determined that 40% of all science person-years were devoted to grain crops compared with 15% for temperate fruits, vegetables, and nut crops. Fuglie and Walker (2001) used the data from Frey’s survey to investigate the factors influencing the level of public and private breeding research. They found that investment in the private sector breeding was positively affected by the value of the crops and negatively affected by the costs in varietal development. Of the studies reviewed, only one study focused on plant breeding priorities and resource allocation in specific breeding programs. Fuji et al. (2007) investigated breeding priorities in Japanese wheat breeding programs. They found that priorities have shifted to product characteristics with rising relative returns to producers, i.e., wheat protein content, rather than productivity. Given this nearly complete lack of information in the literature, in 2010, we conducted a comprehensive survey of all known rosaceous breeders in the United States and Canada.
This article is organized in three sections: (1) methods, including data description and econometric model; (2) results and discussion, including a description of the breeding programs surveyed, relative importance of traits, likelihood of selecting trait clusters, and major findings; and (3) conclusions.
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