Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) is a prominent international scientific society headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. Because of their common interests, CSSA, the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) share a close working relationship as well as the same headquarters office staff. Each of the three Societies is autonomous, has its own bylaws, and is governed by its own Board of Directors. Society members are dedicated to the conservation and wise use of natural resources to produce food, feed, and fiber crops while maintaining and improving the environment. Society membership is tax deductible since the Societies are non-profit, educational organizations. Since its inception, CSSA has continued to evolve, modifying its educational offerings to support the changing needs of its members.
Every day, everyone is impacted by crop science. From the endless green fields of corn and soybeans which cover the Midwest, the vibrant yellows of sunflowers in Canada, the expansive rice patties of Asia, the vast acres of cotton drying under the hot Southwestern sun, to the lush green mountains of coffee growing in Central America, these crops do not just happen. Hard work on the part of the grower, aided by the crop sciences makes these crops possible.
Crop scientists focus on improving crops and agricultural productivity while effectively managing pests and weeds. They make this possible through the application of soil and plant sciences to crop production that incorporates the wise use of natural resources and conservation practices to produce food, feed, fuel, fiber, and pharmaceutical crops while maintaining and improving the environment.
The Science of Crops
The evolution and ongoing development of plants and crops, enabled by science, is the focus of crop scientists. Scientific research to enhance productivity while sustaining the integrity of ecological processes encompasses crop science, including crop breeding, crop physiology, crop ecology,forage and grazinglands, nutritionally enhanced plants, seed science and technology, and turfgrass science. The research is communicated and transferred among agronomists and those in related fields on topics of local, regional, national, and international significance. This research may then be used for practical applications.
Research highlights are also featured via News Releases on our News & Media page.
A Day in the Life of a Crop Scientist
A career in crop science keeps you in the center of efforts to increase the production of food, feed, fuels and fiber, for a growing world citizenry. The crop scientist has many career paths. You’ll find agronomists working in research, teaching and extension at colleges and universities, for the USDA at their Agricultural Research Stations, in extension offices, for companies, and as consultants in agribusiness. Interested in a career in crop science? Discover more with our career brochures, and view the list of colleges and universities with courses and programs in agronomy, crop science, soil science, and related disciplines.
The Future of Agriculture
'The evolution of agriculture within the last 11,000 years marked the first major inflection point in food yield and changed forever the character of the human condition. The application of technology to agriculture early in the 20th century induced the next major crop yield inflection point. Identifying the technological wellspring from which increased rates of productivity will be obtained in the decades ahead is far less obvious than during the last century. The agronomic challenge for the decades to come is to increase productivity per unit of land enough to preclude appropriation of other ecosystems for cropland expansion while simultaneously increasing the efficiency of production inputs, reducing their leakage to the environment, and sustaining the integrity of those ecological processes that undergird these intense biological production systems.' -- This excerpt from the abstract of an article by Fred P. Miller, retired Professor of Soil Science at the School of Environmental and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University was written in celebration of 100 years of The American Society of Agronomy.
The goal of plant breeding is to change the plant's heredity to improve plant performance. Since plants are the most basic source of food for the world's people. Higher yielding food plants are a common goal of plant breeding.
Plant breeding is the art and science of changing the genetics of plants for the benefit of humankind. Plant breeding can be accomplished through many different techniques ranging from simply selecting plants with desirable characteristics for propagation, to more complex molecular techniques.
Plant breeding has been practiced for thousands of years, since near the beginning of human civilization. It is now practiced worldwide by individuals such as gardeners and farmers, or by professional plant breeders employed by organizations such as government institutions, universities, crop-specific industry associations or research centers.
Classical plant breeding uses deliberate interbreeding (crossing) of closely or distantly related individuals to produce new crop varieties or lines with desirable properties. Plants are crossbred to introduce traits/genes from one variety or line into a new genetic background. For example, a mildew-resistant pea may be crossed with a high-yielding but susceptible pea, the goal of the cross being to introduce mildew resistance without losing the high-yield characteristics. Progeny from the cross would then be crossed with the high-yielding parent to ensure that the progeny were most like the high-yielding parent, (backcrossing). The progeny from that cross would then be tested for yield and mildew resistance and high-yielding resistant plants would be further developed. Plants may also be crossed with themselves to produce inbred varieties for breeding.
Modern plant breeding uses techniques of molecular biology to select, or in the case of genetic modification, to insert, desirable traits into plants.
Crop Ecology, Management & Quality
The study of crop ecology is related to the study of agroecosystems, and the field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be sustainable, intensive or extensive. It is also not defined by certain management practices, such as polyculture agriculture in the place of monoculture. Crop ecologists do not unanimously oppose technology or inputs in agriculture but instead assess how, when, and if technology can be used in conjunction with natural, social and human assets.
'The challenge now is to add the ecological dimension to crop productivity improvement. The term Evergreen Revolution was coined bout 15 yr ago to indicate that we should develop technologies that can help to increase productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. The Evergreen Revolution technologies are based on a farming systems approach and will also involve farmer participatory breeding and knowledge management. Countries like India, China, and Bangladesh have to produce more and more food and other farm commodities from diminishing per capita land and irrigation water resources. Therefore, productivity enhancement is the only pathway available to us to produce more to feed the growing population. This is why an Evergreen Revolution approach is exceedingly important. An Evergreen Revolution needs the integration of frontier technologies like biotechnology and information communication technology with traditional ecological prudence. We should harness both traditional wisdom and frontier science to shape our agricultural future.'
An Evergreen Revolution -- Swaminathan 46 (5): 2293 -- Crop Science
The term 'Green Revolution' was coined by Dr. William Gaud ofthe U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1968 to describe the revolutionary progress taking place in the wheat and rice fields of South Asia, in terms of yield per hectare. The initial genetic material for the new plant architecture and physiological rhythm came from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico in the case of wheat, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines for rice. The original genes for the semi dwarf trait were derived from ‘Norin 10’wheat from Japan and ‘Dee-gee-woo-gen’ dwarf rice of China. Increased yield came from the interaction of the genotype and high-yielding environment, which was created by the application of mineral fertilizers and irrigation water. In India, semi dwarf wheat came in 1963 from the program of Dr. Norman Borlaug in Mexico. It was clear, even in the very first year of cultivation, that the semi dwarf cultivars were capable of giving a quantum jump in productivity when accompanied by suitable agronomic practices.
There is an urgent need for an international research network which can facilitate knowledge and technology sharing in the area of improving farming systems productivity on an environmentally sustainable basis. Such a network, which may comprise partners in the major farming systems and agroecological regions of the world, could undertake studies on the following topics: (i)integrated gene management; (ii) higher factor productivity, with particular reference to water and nutrients; (iii) precision farming and development of the biological software essential for sustainable agriculture; (iv) bioorganic agriculture combining relevant features of organic farming and biotechnology; (v)biomass utilization for adding economic value to every part of the biomass; and (vi) knowledge connectivity through internet-aidedrural knowledge centers.
How do plants sense the nearness and presence of neighbors? If there are neighbors, how does the morphology of many crop plants change in response? How do these alterations change the ability of plants to intercept solar radiation and perform photosynthesis? These questions are all part of the exciting subject area of crop physiology. Crop physiology is the investigation of the plant processes driving growth, development, and economic production by crop plants.
Crop physiologists use basic and applied research to understand how plants operate. They focus on whole plants and plant communities more so than individual plant organs or cells because most of the processes that control yield operate at the whole plant level with an intimate interaction with the environment. Consequently most crop physiology research is conducted in the field or in near-field environments of greenhouses or growth chambers. Crop physiologists examine primary production including photosynthesis, respiration, nitrogen fixation and nutrient uptake. How produced assimilates are utilized for growth and yield attainment are also analyzed. Further, how plants and these processes are affected by the environment, whether biotic or abiotic, is of major importance. Research in crop physiology has had major impacts on agricultural practices and our knowledge of life as we know it. Most of all, being a crop physiologist is fun!
Forage is plant material (mainly plant leaves and stems) eaten by grazing livestock. Historically the term forage has meant only plants eaten by the animals directly as pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals, especially as hay or silage.
Genetically modified (GM) plant production is in a new phase that could have serious health consequences if the biology of these plants and their interaction with the consumer are not better understood. Currently the only widely planted GM crops are those engineered for insect and herbicide resistance, but there has been interest in marketing plant-based pharmaceuticals as well as nutritionally enhanced plants (NEPs), such as those producing vitamins and other food supplements.
The best known example of a NEP is golden rice, which was engineered for the overproduction of beta-carotene, the precursor to retinol (vitamin A), but has not yet been commercialized. Other examples include plants enriched in vitamin E2,3 or omega-3 fatty acids. Protein-based pharmaceuticals meeting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clinical standards have been difficult to produce in plants in their native form, in part because secondary modifications, such as glycosylation, are quite distinct from those made by mammalian cells and can contribute to the proteins’ immunogenicity.
In contrast to protein-based pharmaceuticals, most NEPs only necessitate the manipulation of small molecule metabolism and will, based upon current GM crop regulation, likely be viewed by U.S. government agencies as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), thereby not requiring any mandatory safety testing.
Seeds are fundamental to agriculture. They are the starting point for the production of most crops and delivery system for advanced genetics. Seeds constitute 70% of our food and recent additional uses of seeds as stored energy has increased both seed and commodity prices worldwide. The past 50 years has seen many research-driven improvements in seed genetics and technology that have been responsible for dramatic increases in crop productivity worldwide.
Increasing demand for seed as biofuel feedstock coupled with a need to feed a burgeoning global population makes seed science and technology an essential discipline for human survival and prosperity. Cereal production alone will have to increase by roughly a billion metric tons in the next 30 years to meet world needs. To meet future world needs for food, fiber and energy, additional research advancements in seed genetics and technology will be critical. Sharing expertise on seed production technologies and research through distance learning will be a prerequisite for meeting the global demand for quality seed.
Humans have great capacity to alter the landscape environment. Turfgrasses, while frequently taken for granted, are used to improve the quality of life for many people living within developed landscapes.
Plants are a major part of our diets. For example, fruits and vegetables, bread, cereals, pasta, and many processed foods are made directly from plants or from ingredients that come from crop plants. In addition, most of our animal-based food products such as meat, eggs, dairy products and fish are produced by animals that eat plants.
Scientists have made tremendous advances in understanding what makes food nutritious. The roles of vitamins, minerals and other compounds found in plants are becoming clear. Plant breeders have been improving the crop plants we depend on for food for thousands of years, making them more productive, nutritious and easier to grow and harvest. Nearly all of the plants we eat or feed to animals have been improved to some extent by plant breeders. With the help of reliable methods to measure various compounds in plants, plant breeders are more effective than ever at producing plants that are more health-promoting and nutritious.
Plant breeders have developed plants with increased concentrations of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. One example of this is “Golden Rice”, a genetically modified rice that can make beta-carotene (a source of vitamin A) in its grains. Breeders have also developed crop varieties with diminished levels of undesirable compounds, such as allergens or toxins. Much of this work has occurred in cooperation with crop physiologists and molecular biologists, who have helped to uncover the genes and the biochemical pathways that contribute to these advances.
Plant breeders use many methods to improve plants. The earliest plant breeders kept plants that were easy to grow, store, and tasted good, without knowing that they were improving their crops by a method breeders now call selection. More sophisticated understanding of genetics allowed breeders to apply selection more efficiently so the rate of change from breeding became greater. Similarly, enhanced understanding of molecular genetics has enabled biotechnological methods that have allowed even more rapid improvements. Nutritionally enhanced plants have been successfully produced using all types of breeding methods. New technologies such as genome editing will undoubtedly allow development of new types of nutritionally enhanced plants.
Scientists and the public are justifiably wary of new breeding technologies and their products, so these products are carefully evaluated by many experts before being made available to the public. Scientists confirm that no allergens are introduced, and when the technology results in elevated levels of a nutrient, researchers assess and ensure that toxic levels would not be reached in commonly consumed amounts of that food product. Researchers continue to study these plants to ensure they are a safe and beneficial component of our diets.
The need for nutritionally enhanced plants is great. The population of the earth is predicted to grow by 2 billion people in the next 3 decades, while agriculture continues to strain our natural resources. By allowing growers to produce high levels of nutrients on a small amount of land, nutritionally enhanced plants will play a central role in meeting the global demand for safe, healthy and plentiful food.