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Master of Science (Plant Breeding)

Key facts

  • Available at Manawatū
  • Available for international students studying in NZ

Be in demand

There is a shortage of applied plant breeders in New Zealand and overseas - you will be in demand in the industry. Many graduates have employment before they graduate.

Find out more about the Master of Science parent structure.

What is it like?

When you study the Master of Science (Plant Breeding) at Massey University you will become a member of a significant international scientific community responsible for global food security.

This plant breeding major is a unique qualification in New Zealand. This course will provide you with training in quantitative genetics & applied plant breeding methods, multisite experimental design, data analysis & interpretation, application of molecular tools in plant breeding and visits to field programs & interaction with applied plant breeders.

Take advantage of our globally-renowned expertise

This course will be taught by highly-skilled internationally-recognised and active researchers with expertise in; plant genetic resources, quantitative genetics, applied plant breeding, plant molecular biology, evolutionary biology, systematics and taxonomy and plant physiology. During the course of your studies you will visit applied field programs and learn from practicing scientists and experienced field breeders.

International interest

You’ll gain an international perspective on plant breeding  – this programme attracts a wide range of international students from diverse regions such as China, Africa, Korea, Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and more.

A multi-disciplinary approach

The modern plant breeder is one who has not only to have a good understanding of genetics and plant breeding methods, but also know how to apply new tools such as molecular marker technologies and also interact with other significant disciplines such as agronomy, plant protection, plant physiology. This is why our course takes a multi-disciplinary approach. The students are taught the importance of a team approach to plant breeding. They are also given a global prospective of the significance of the international plant breeding community responsible for food security of the human population.

Latest data analysis techniques

Students will have the opportunity to learn data analysis using DeltaGen, which is a new plant breeding decision software tool (implemented in R) and co-developed by Associate Professor Zulfi Jahufer, who leads the Plant Breeding programme.  

World-class equipment and facilities

As a plant breeding student you will have access to Massey’s world-leading equipment and facilities such as our extensive glasshouses and farms, molecular labs, the Dame Ella Campbell Herbarium, the Palynology Laboratory, Plant Growth Unit, Seed Testing Services, Massey Genome Service and the Manawatu Microscopy and Imaging Centre.

Relevant and topical

We work to ensure that our teaching fits with the changing environment, which means that you will emerge with a relevant qualification valued by potential employers.

During the course of your study you will get the opportunity to visit and work with organisations working on plant breeding, like the AgResearch Grasslands Research Centre, Plant & Food and SCION. Some of our students are able to conduct their projects at these organisations whilst undertaking their postgraduate study, benefiting their career and gaining real-word experience in the process. Masters and PhD students from Massey are often co-supervised by experienced scientists from these organisations, most of which are physically located very close to Massey’s Manawatu campus.

Why postgraduate study?

Postgraduate study is hard work but hugely rewarding and empowering. The Master of Science will push you to produce your best creative, strategic and theoretical ideas. The workload replicates the high-pressure environment of senior workplace roles. Completing this course will also provide you with the opportunity of undertaking a PhD.

Not just more of the same

Postgraduate study is not just ‘more of the same’ undergraduate study. Our experts are there to guide but if you have come from undergraduate study, you will find that postgraduate study demands more in-depth and independent study. It takes you to a new level in knowledge and expertise especially in planning, undertaking research, improving scientific skills and also presenting scientific information to an audience.

Complete in 2 years

Massey University’s Master of Science is primarily a 240 credit master qualification. This is made up of 120 credits of taught courses and a 120 credit research project.

Or if you have already completed the BSc (Hons) or PGDipSc you can conduct a 120 credit thesis to achieve your master's qualification.

A good fit if you:

  • Have an undergraduate degree in either plant science or related fields like genetics, horticulture or general agriculture
  • Would like a career in plant sciences that involves applied field research and the application of molecular tools
  • Would like to work together with the seed industry and farmers
  • Would like to join an international group of professionals focused on global food production
Jessica O’Connor
Master of Science (Plant Breeding)
Forage Genetics Breeding Technician, AgResearch

“I chose Massey University for my postgraduate studies because many of my work colleagues had positively spoken of their learning experiences, particularly in undertaking the postgraduate plant breeding papers…”

During my life I developed a passion for agriculture, science, and innovative problem solving. I particularly enjoyed learning about and working with plants.

I was already working as a forage breeding field technician and wanted to advance my career, improve my science writing skills, and gain a greater understanding of my chosen field. So I chose to study the MSc (Plant Breeding) part-time.

The biggest highlight of my study was submitting my thesis. Knowing all the personal investment, learning, editing, and time I had put into that document, it was such a good feeling to know that I had succeeded in seeing this difficult thing through to completion.

My role at AgResearch is as a technician in the Forage Genetics team. The team has several innovative projects which aim to develop germplasm pools for cultivar development, develop new breeding methods, and create breeders’ software that can be adopted by industry to improve genetic gains in forage species.

Study at Massey University helped my career by developing my personal and professional talents. This is enabling me to pursue my research ideas more realistically as I now have a better understanding of the process, resources, and communication skills required to undertake and attain good science outcomes. I can see more opportunities for advancement in my career are now available to me because of my master’s degree.


You will gain the skills to work as a commercial applied plant breeder, work as a research scientist, continue into a PhD programme or work as an agronomist or agricultural advisor.

Highly sought after

Globally there is a shortage of plant breeders, so you will be in demand.

Earn more

A 2017 Ministry of Education publication The post-study earnings and destinations of young domestic graduates, found that in New Zealand:

  • Young master’s graduates earn more than one and a half times more than the national median (five years after study)
  • Earnings and employment rates increase with the level of qualification completed
  • Five years after completion, the median earnings of young master’s graduates are 15% higher than for those with a bachelor’s degree.

World-leading lecturers and supervisors

The researchers involved in this programme are internationally-renowned for their research and teaching and learning methods. You will be working with internationally-recognised plant breeding specialists, for example:

Associate Professor Zulfi Jahufer

Dr Jahufer has over 30 years experience in research and development in quantitative genetics & plant breeding. He has worked on projects in Europe, Australasia and Vietnam.

A key focus of his research has been studying the underlying genetics of plant persistence under moisture stress, a significant problem associated with climate change and the agricultural footprint.

In 2012 he received a Royal Society of New Zealand Senior Scholar Award for his work, and visited Lanzhou University in China, where he is now responsible for an annual three-week course in statistics and plant breeding.

Dr Jahufer is widely published in key journals including Crop Science, Field Crops Research, Euphytica, PLOS ONE and the Journal of Applied Seed Production. He is an associate editor of the PLOS ONE journal and the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research.

As well as leading Massey’s plant breeding programme Zulfi is a senior research scientist at AgResearch Grasslands in quantitative genetics and forage breeding, where he plays a key role in integrating new molecular tools into conventional breeding strategies to improve the rate of genetic gain.

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