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

Published October 12, 2021 by Dieter K Mulitze, PhD, Founder and CEO, Agronomix Software, Inc.

There are so many hidden costs when running a business but the costs of staff turnover are sometimes forgotten. When someone leaves they take with them knowledge and experience not easily or always captured by a computer.

Unexpected Departures

If any of your plant breeders were to unexpectedly leave your organization, how would it affect you? Would it be a smooth transition for the new breeder? Might the change be a devastating blow to your new product pipeline? Would it put 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. This ensures the availability of experienced and capable employees 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. Consequently, the program can continue mostly uninterrupted with minimal transitional cost.

Undecipherable Notes

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. Eventually plant breeders have to make the million-dollar decisions as to which new hybrids to release and which to discard. Ideally, they need 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. Reconstructing useable records of R&D data if the information is a hodge-podge of notes and files wastes a lot of time. A new plant breeder may have to spend weeks or even months organizing old data without proper succession planning. Imagine the complications involved in understanding someone else’s Excel files and field notes. And then transferring it, preferably, to a relational database as a more efficient way forward. If there is no one to sort out what has happened the existing data becomes 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 a worst-case scenario – but was very costly!

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To organize a breeding program’s data into a single relational database will yield benefits even without a change in leadership. Colleagues using the same database can work as a team instead of as individuals working in isolation. Then, any new breeders can more quickly be “up to speed” and 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 about performance related to a wide variety of environments. Using Excel files or a flat file system will never achieve the same results.

Successful breeding program have 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.

(First Published as part of SeedWorld INSIDERS on, March 2018. Edited October 2021)

Dieter Mulitze, PhD. is Founder and CEO of Agronomix Software Inc.

Agronomix are the developers of Genovix®, leading software solution for plant breeding and variety testing. Used worldwide.

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