Plant Germplasm:

Improving Data for Management Decisions

PEMD-91-5A: Published: Oct 10, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 10, 1990.

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GAO examined the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) management of plant germplasm stores, focusing on: (1) ARS information collection and priority setting for germplasm management activities; (2) conditions that affect species' long-term survival; and (3) assessment of the effects of biotechnology applications.

GAO found that: (1) the information ARS gathered was often incomplete and not comparable across crops; (2) data provided by Department of Agriculture (USDA) crop advisory committees on crop vulnerability were often inadequate, since ARS provided neither funding nor detailed procedural guidance for collecting such data; (3) ARS determined germplasm priorities on the basis of information obtained from its own activities and the activities of outside groups, which often provided uncertain samples and noncomparable, inconsistent data; (4) ARS tried to fund at least the most important need of each crop advisory committee; and (5) ARS faced economic and political difficulties in setting effective program priorities. GAO also found that conditions affecting crops' or species' long-term survival included: (1) the amounts and types of germplasm acquired by germplasm managers and other crop scientists; (2) locations of endangered plant species; (3) the condition of stored germplasm; (4) the amount, type, and availability of evaluation data and other information that described collected germplasm; (5) emphases on plant breeding and research programs with respect to objectives, rationale, and use of germplasm; (6) susceptibility and known resistance to disease, insects, pests, and other environmental stresses; and (7) the size of the genetic base of commercial crops and the range of genetic and species diversity. GAO believes that the use of its developed framework, which provides for the collection of data regarding survival influences and which suggests how such information can be analyzed, would allow ARS to collect uniform, comparable data on any crop, genus, or species.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Agricultural Research Service implemented the GAO recommended survey methodology for improving data collection and management of plant genetic resources, and included additional implementation evolving at other crops in its 10-year plan.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, ARS, should determine which crops would most benefit from the full implementation of the GAO-proposed methodology, or a similar one that incorporates the same basic concepts, and implement it for those crops (perhaps four or five related crops in the first year). Although the costs associated with the survey implementation will probably compete for germplasm program funds, GAO believes that the methodology can supplement or replace current data collection efforts. Therefore, the survey costs will be at least partially offset by the valuable information obtained and the resulting effect on decisionmaking.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service


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