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Crop Breeding

For crops ranging from blueberries to wheat, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University has been internationally recognized for its plant breeding programs for more than 60 years.

These programs are still strong and among the best in the world today. For the last 30 years, innovations developed in the college in contemporary DNA-assisted breeding and quality control have been used in commercial corn breeding worldwide. And N.C. State confers the highest number of graduate degrees in plant breeding in the southern United States and the second highest number in the nation. It is no wonder, then, that when agribusinesses such as Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-bred and Syngenta hire plant breeders, their first choice is an N.C. State graduate.

Agribusinesses have also shown their faith in N.C. State programs by providing financial support. As of January 2011, Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-bred had provided approximately $1 million over the past three years to support plant breeding graduate student training, while during 2010, the College received $4.2 million in commodity association, federal and private industry grants for plant breeding work.

Since 1950, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences plant breeders have released approximately 700 new plant varieties and breeding lines. Following are other measures of the success of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences plant breeding programs. The College also created the Center for Plant Breeding and Applied Plant Genomics, and a wealth of information about College plant breeding is available on the center’s website.


  • N.C. acreage planted to N.C. State varieties in 2010: approximately 68 percent.
  • Gross revenue to growers from N.C. State blueberry varieties in 2010: approximately $33 million.
  • N.C. State blueberry variety ‘O’Neal’ was the most widely planted variety in warm blueberry production areas worldwide in 2005.
  • New blueberry variety adapted to mechanical harvest will increase gross incomes.
  • Twenty eight N.C. State blueberry varieties released in past 31 years.


  • Value of N.C. State corn inbreds licensed by private industry since 1990: $16 million.
  • Gross revenue to N.C. piedmont and mountain corn producers from resistance to grey leaf spot fungus, developed at N.C. State: $80 million.


  • Developed the first commercially successful perfect-flowered and self-fertile muscadine grape varieties as well as the current leading varieties for red and white wine.


  • N.C. oat acreage planted to N.C. State varieties 2006 to 2010: 99 percent.
  • Gross revenue to N.C. producers from N.C. State oat varieties: $3.2 million annually.
  • Acreage planted in Southeastern U.S. to varieties developed by a cooperative wheat breeding effort that includes N.C. State: approximately 600,000 acres annually.


  • New N.C. State varieties of hydrangea, flowering quince, summersweet, hypericum, pearlbush, and sweetshrub support the $777 million dollar nursery crop industry.
  • ‘Blue Chip’ and ‘Purple Haze’ are the first dwarf, sterile butterfly bushes released in the commercial trade. Sterility prevents invasive potential.
  • ‘Ruby Falls’ is the first redbud with purple leaves and weeping architecture.


  • Late-flowering cultivars such as ‘Contender’, ‘China Pearl’ have increased cropping consistency in N.C. orchards.


  • N.C. Acreage planted to N.C. State varieties 1990 to 2009: 86 percent.
  • Gross revenue to N.C. producers (1990 – 2009) from N.C. State peanut varieties: $1.7 billion.


  • U.S. pickle acreage planted to N.C. State variety ‘Calypso’: 75 percent.


  • Potato acreage planted in the Eastern U.S. using potato varieties developed by cooperative potato breeding efforts that include N.C. State: approximately 100,000 acres annually.


  • Developed ‘Mandarin’, the first heat-tolerant red raspberry with commercial potential.
  • ‘Nantahala’, a new variety released in 2007, is reviving the raspberry industry in Western N.C.


  • Developed 75 percent of the major strawberry varieties used by N.C. and southeastern U.S. growers prior to the use of the plasticulture production system.


  • Working to provide the farming community with competitive, high yielding, non-GMO soybean varieties for those choosing a low-input alternative.
  • Discovered genes that improve soybean oil quality.
  • Released the first drought-tolerant soybeans and identified the underlying genetic mechanism.
  • Identified the genetic mechanism for soybeans to tolerate high aluminum in N.C. soils.
  • Leader of a national team to develop new heart-smart soybean varieties to improve human health.
  • Broke the negative relationship between seed yield and seed protein, which has hampered soybean breeding progress for decades.
  • Developed the first nematode-resistant soybean varieties.


  • Acreage planted to N.C. State varieties 2007 to 2010: approximately 80 percent.
  • Gross revenue from N.C. State’s sweetpotato variety ‘Covington’ to the sweetpotato industry in 2010: $150 million.
  • Global sales of N.C. State’s ornamental sweetpotato varieties in 2010: approximately $2.5 million.
  • Produced first complete genetic map of sweetpotato.


  • Gross revenue to N.C. producers from N.C. State tobacco varieties: $226 million annually.
  • Leader in the development of tobacco varieties carrying harm reduction technologies (these varieties have a predicted value to the tobacco industry and N.C. of billions of dollars annually).
  • First complete genetic map of tobacco produced using materials generated by N.C. State scientists.


  • N.C. acreage planted to N.C. State varieties in 2010: approximately 60 percent.
  • Gross revenue to growers from N.C. State tomato varieties in 2010: $17 million.


  • ‘Raleigh,’ a variety of St. Augustinegrass from N.C. State that is grown across the southeast is still the industry standard, a quarter of a century after release.
  • Grant from Bayer Crop Science for breeding improved perennial ryegrass: $2.5 million.


  • Gross revenue from cooperative wheat breeding effort in southeastern U.S. in 2010: approximately $100 million.
  • Federal funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service plant breeding scientists based on N.C. State campus: $4.2 million annually.
  • Eastern U.S. laboratory for DNA marker research in wheat, oats and barley at N.C. State.
  • Eastern U.S. plant breeding coordinator for protecting the homeland from newly evolved races of wheat pathogens in Africa and the Middle East at N.C. State.
  • Established the N.C. Organic Bread Flour Project ( N.C.OBFP) based on two wheat varieties developed for Western N.C.


  • Developed specialty crop varieties in soybean, melons, wheat, oats and triticale to stimulate diversification into emerging markets in U.S. and Asia.
  • Initiated breeding programs to develop perennial grasses, cold-hardy sugar canes and giant reeds as bioenergy crops to serve state’s diverse energy and economic needs.
  • Long term initiatives in soybean and sweetpotato address issues of crop stress due to climate uncertainty.
  • Developed the most powerful genetic mapping population of any species and used it to identify genes controlling Southern corn leaf blight.
  • National location for preservation of germplasm of tobacco and wild species of peanut.
  • Collected and preserved for future generations wild and cultivated plants of cucumber, cantaloupe and watermelon in China, South Africa and Turkmenistan and peanuts in Brazil.
  • Teach plant breeding courses on-line for distance education program to help students in industry and at universities that do not have plant breeding courses.
  • Long-term initiatives in wheat, peanut, tomato, cucurbits, blueberry, strawberry, muscadine grapes and cotton to develop genetic resistance to pests and diseases, reduce pesticide usage and improve environmental quality.
  • New program to breed crops for organic production systems initiated in 2009.

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