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Plant Breeding Software or Spreadsheets – a million dollar difference

Published November 17, 2018 by Dieter K Mulitze, PhD, Founder and CEO, Agronomix Software, Inc.

There are seed companies where the seed multiplication, sales and marketing staff use expensive and very current software. Meanwhile the breeders in the same company are still primarily using spreadsheets. 

Think about it – the breeders who develop the hybrids and varieties that determine the rest of the “revenue pipeline” on which the company depends for its future, use the simplest of software tools. I know – I have visited seed companies in 2017 and earlier where this is still true. Does not this picture seem a bit strange or incongruent? What causes and even perpetuates such a bottleneck for a seed company?

It is not that senior management is unappreciative of the value of data analysis. They make significant investments in sophisticated systems to help them manage logistics and distribution because they understand the complexity of the decision making process. They know the cost of making an ill-advised decision. It is also quite tangible – xx bags shipped on time, yy revenue in sales and zz in inventory with profit computed to the cent.  Plant breeders also collect big data that requires a comprehensive and well structured database with sophisticated analysis – but that might at first glance seem less tangible.

Could Your Seed Company Use an Extra Million Dollars?

“Increasing the probability of developing the most superior hybrid possible in the company’s breeding program” could sound theoretical. But how about “a better hybrid was developed (with the help of a relational software system for breeders) that stayed on the market for yet another year and made the company an extra million dollars”? Not so intangible! One research director at a medium-sized seed company told me that is the difference plant breeding software makes in his company.

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To transform the large amount of plant breeding data into actionable information requires various advanced tools. Tools such as advanced experimental designs, spatial analyses of yield trials plus other advanced statistical analyses and specific decision tools. Easy for a powerful relational database but well beyond the capability of  spreadsheets. But all too often, these are the tools plant breeders are expected to use because top senior administrators are unaware or unappreciative of the specific software systems available to help create and advance new more superior hybrids and varieties through the product pipeline. In one company I visited, the managing director said, “Our breeders have developed hybrids for decades using Excel, why do they need special software now?”

The Importance of Data Management and Analysis

Some plant breeders have a challenge when communicating with their senior officials. For the good of the company, they have an obligation to explain that data management and analysis are as vital to advancing new selections as other software is for increasing the company’s marketing productivity and financial efficiency. It is as necessary, maybe even more so, for a plant breeder to advance beyond using spreadsheets as it is for say a CFO to invest in a unified accounting software package. The CFO would no doubt consider that an investment, not an expense, why not the same for the breeder?

Does your company invest in the best software tools for your breeders?  Do you want the best possible hybrids or varieties from your company? Do you want them to stay as long as possible on the market?

In another article for we looked at the time wasted by using spreadsheets instead of a dedicated plant breeding software database.

(First published on, December 2017 | edited November 2018)

Dr Dieter Mulitze is Founder and CEO of Agronomix Software – leading software for plant breeders and variety testers.

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