What will tomorrow’s tree breeding sector look like? An economic analysis

The genetic selection of trees (breeding) and associated production of improved forest reproductive material (FRM) have a long history in many European countries. Looking forward, the tree breeding sector plays a strategic role in ensuring the resilience of forests under climate change, but its evolution is difficult to predict as it results from the complex interactions of technology, institutional actors, regulatory environment, market developments and the research and development sector.

An objective of B4EST is to understand this complexity in order to develop solutions and recommendations that fit the broader context within which tree breeding operates. As the organisation of breeding and production and diffusion of FRM is organised quite differently depending on the species and countries, the analysis is based on four cases capturing this diversity (Maritime Pine, Norway Spruce, Eucalyptus and Poplar).

The project will investigate the economic potential of the genomic revolution, which has transformed selection in many sectors (e.g., animal production) but, to date, has had little impact in the forest sector. Genomic selection has the potential to accelerate the breeding process and improve the assessment of genetic value, but it also involves significant costs and requires new knowledge. Inevitably, the relative newness of the technology also introduces uncertainty, and the specificities of tree biology – for instance the length of the production cycle or time to sexual maturity – introduce constraints that are not present in other natural resource sectors.

The project will compare the relative efficiency of genomic-based and traditional breeding methods for three species (Maritime pine, Norway spruce and Populus sp.). This part will be based on the collaboration between tree geneticists familiar with the comparison of different methodologies for the selection of trees and economists familiar with cost-benefit analysis. The work will complement the analyses that have already been made in the literature by better taking into account the costs of the different basic operations related to tree breeding and the possible substitutions among those costs when modifying the structure of the breeding programs. The results will inform private and public breeders about when and why one type of selection is economically preferable to another, and under which conditions genomic selection is likely to be broadly adopted by the forest sector in the future.

B4EST will also investigate the broader innovation systems to which tree breeding activities belong, with the aim of anticipating the evolution of the sector and how that evolution may be influenced, for instance through the use of public policies or regulatory changes. The task will analyse the organisational structure of the breeding sector by mapping the main public and private organisations involved and their relationships, defining the key aspects of the regulatory framework and identifying the salient market forces shaping the sector. Drawing on case studies of three species (Maritine Pine, Eucalyptus, Norway Spruce) and five countries (France, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Sweden), the project will highlight the main drivers of change in tree breeding in Europe. Stay tuned!

More information:

Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Grenoble Applied Economics Lab (GAEL): Stéphane Lemarié, Aline Fugeray-Scarbel, Eve Audoin

Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Bioeconomy and Environment Research Unit: Xavier Irz

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