Plant Breeding Degrees and Courses

Plant breeding careers require a bachelor's degree for entry-level work, though a master's or doctoral degree is necessary for more advanced research positions. Read on for details about what types of courses are offered at the different degree levels and for career information. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

You can begin a career as a plant breeder by majoring in plant sciences. Advanced degrees may prepare you for more specialized work in plant breeding. Various master's and doctoral programs are available.

Degrees Bachelor's, Master's, Ph.D
Courses Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants, Plant Genetics, Nutritional Quality Improvement of Food Crops, Statistics for Biologists, Plant Molecular Biology
Schools Four-year colleges and universities

What Are Bachelor's Degrees Like?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a bachelor's degree is generally required for entry-level positions in plant breeding ( Entry-level positions would include agriculture support industries, public research programs and agricultural extensions.

A bachelor's degree in plant breeding, plant science or horticulture often offers the opportunity to pursue different specializations. Many schools recommend that you take courses that give a broad background in plant sciences because of the many diverse traits of individual plants. For example, you can study entomology, biochemistry, soils or plant biology. You can take courses that focus on individual types of plants, such as vegetables, fruits, forage crops or ornamentals. These topics might be covered in a plant sciences major:

  • Plant biodiversity and evolution
  • Plant genetics
  • Tropical cropping systems
  • Organic chemistry
  • Plant anatomy

What About Master's Degrees?

At the graduate level, a master's degree program in plant breeding can prepare you for a position in a company that works on increasing plant yields for higher productivity. These would include corn, cereals, fruits, vegetables and forage crops. At this level, you will begin to study molecular and biochemical processes used to determine important genes in plants that make them stronger, more disease resistant and higher in yield. A Master of Science in Plant Breeding introduces you to advanced plant breeding. A standard curriculum covers genetics, polyploidy, plant reproductive biology, statistics and plant biotechnology. You can learn about plant DNA, plant improvement, cross-pollinating crops, genetic processes and regression applications. Many schools require a thesis for completion of the degree program. A Master of Science in Plant Pathology or a joint Master of Science/Doctor of Philosophy degree program might also be an option.

What Doctoral Programs Are Offered?

A Ph.D. degree program may focus on research in genetics, genomics and plant breeding. A Ph.D. degree program can teach you how to create new varieties of crops, perform basic genetics research and understand the importance of various crop characteristics. You can also learn about plant molecular biology, genetic scripting and statistics and plant biotechnology. Other coursework may include water resources, crop science, terrorism and the food supply, genomic biology, precision agriculture and water quality. A dissertation is required, based on your own original research. Options include a Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding or Plant Pathology.

What Careers Will I Be Prepared For?

Plant breeders find work in many diverse industries. Some are employed in the agriculture and food science industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, many plant breeders hold positions in government agencies at the federal, state and local levels. Many plant breeders work for state agricultural colleges. Some plant breeders are self-employed and work as consultants to various industries.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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