Over the last half-century, crop breeding and agronomic advances have dramatically enhanced yields in temperate summer-annual cropping systems. Now, diversification of these cropping systems is emerging as a strategy for sustainable intensification, potentially increasing both crop production and resource conservation. In temperate zones, diversification is largely based on the introduction of winter-annual and perennial crops at spatial and temporal locations in annual-crop production systems that efficiently increase production and resource conservation. Germplasm development will be critical to this strategy, but we contend that to be feasible and efficient, germplasm improvement must be closely integrated with commercialization of these crops. To accomplish this integration, we propose a novel approach to germplasm development: the reflective plant breeding paradigm (RPBP). Our approach is enabled by developments in genomics, agroecosystem management, and innovation theory and practice. These developments and new plant-breeding technologies (e.g., low-cost sequencing, phenotyping, and spatial modeling of agroecosystems) now enable germplasm development to proceed on a time scale that enables close coordination of breeding and commercialization (i.e, development of cost-effective production systems and supply–value chains for end-use markets). The RPBP approach is based on close coordination of germplasm development with enterprise development. In addition to supporting strategic diversification of current annual-cropping systems, the RPBP may be useful in rapid adaptation of agriculture to climate change. Finally, the RPBP may offer a novel and distinctive pathway for future development of the public plant-breeding programs of land-grant universities with implications for graduate education for public- and private-sector plant breeders.
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