Science - August 15, 2012

Plantum is setting up top consortium for plant breeding

The association of plant breeding companies, Plantum, has set up the Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) for propagation materials.

The foundation aims to coordinate public-private research on plant breeding and seed technology for the Horticulture & Propagation Materials top sector, which includes the Green Genetics top scientific institute, the genomics centre CBSG and programmes under the auspices of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, the product boards and DLO.
The creation of the top consortium is a further step in implementing the government's top sectors policy. A TKI for horticulture has also been set up within the Horticulture & Propagation Materials top sector. The participants in the Agrofood top sector have opted for a single TKI. The TKIs are supposed to supervise and coordinate research within the top sectors. The idea behind the top sectors policy is for the private sector to take the lead in setting the research agenda and choosing the projects.
That is no easy task, says Niels Louwaars, Plantum's director. The seed breeding companies have proposed a lot of research projects where they will be funding 40 percent of the costs but the government is offering 'very little funding' as its contribution. 'And that is not good. Funding for the Green Genetics top scientific institute and the CBSG genomics institute will cease at the end of this year but arrangements for new funds have not been finalized. There is less money than in previous years and not really any money at all for new proposals.'
It has long been unclear who exactly should be selecting the research projects, says Louwaars. The TKI will set the criteria for determining which research projects should be selected and they will be chosen by the top sector team. However, a preliminary selection has already been made of research projects that will be eligible for funding next year. 'That is a pragmatic decision intended to keep things moving in the implementation of the top sectors policy', says Louwaars. 'But because we don't have any strict assessment criteria, we are not confident this selection will survive any discussions.'
The Propagation Materials TKI has a board with four representatives from the plant breeding companies, two from the scientific institutes, two from the funding organizations and an independent chairperson.