The 15th Southern African Plant Breeding Symposium was held in Bloemfontein from 11-13 March 2024 with the theme “Sustainability”. Plant breeding underpins food, feed and fibre security in South Africa, with FABI and the University of Pretoria at the forefront of local molecular breeding initiatives. Prof. Zander Myburg of FMG presented a keynote lecture entitled “Large scale genome sequencing for genetic improvement of woody biomass in Eucalyptus”.  A key point was that breeding in long-lived trees is much like animal breeding and thus genomic selection is a major priority. Prof. Dave Berger of MPPI spoke on “Regulation of New Breeding Technologies in plants – should we focus on the process or the product?” (voted by the audience as best talk on Day 1). Dr John Becker gave an overview of the joint UP-Stellenbosch University initiative in Plant Phenomics. This was complemented by an online talk from the Netherlands Plant Eco-phenotyping Centre in the Netherlands (see this useful review).  

Dr Rikus Kloppers of Corteva Agriscience gave an overview of Seed Applied Technology. He made the point that crop protection does not increase yield but protects the yield potential of field crops. Dr Cheusi Mutawila of Bayer echoed several talks from industry about the intensifying use of big data in crop breeding and how this can be applied for genetic gain for disease resistance. A highlight was a Q&A with three field crop farmers who shared how they have maintained good yields over many years through improved genetics and careful management of moisture and soil health. De Wet Plant Breeders illustrated that flower breeding yields many successes with time and patience, culminating in their Agapanthus “Blackjack”, winner at the 2023 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Another highlight was the student symposium, a regular event sponsored by Corteva. In addition to flash talks by postgrads, there was a panel discussion about careers in plant breeding. Special guests at this event were teachers and learners from nearby schools. Finally, its clear that the molecular breeding expertise and soft skills of graduates from the FABI and the UP fold leads them to be snapped up in the plant breeding industry.