Field Genebank

Field genebank at the USDA genebank
Field genebank at the USDA genebank (photo: L. Guarino, by kind permission of USDA genebank in Ames, Iowa, USA)

Page compiled by: Bioversity International/ILRI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Alexandra Jorge); ILRI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jean Hanson) including information extracted from: Reed BM, Engelmann F, Dulloo ME, Engels JMM. 2004. Technical guidelines for the management of field and in vitro germplasm collections. IPGRI Handbook for Genebanks No.7. IPGRI, Rome, Italy.

The use of field genebanks

In field genebanks the plant genetic resources are kept as live plants that undergo continuous growth and require continuous maintenance. They are often used when the germplasm is either difficult or impossible to conserve as seeds (i.e. when no seeds are formed, seeds are recalcitrant or seed production takes many years, as for many tree species) or the crop is reproduced vegetatively.


Field genebanks provide an easy and ready access to the plant genetic resources, for characterization, evaluation or utilization, while the same material conserved in the form of seeds, in vitro or cryo must be germinated or regenerated and grown before it can be used. They are also useful for conserving vegetatively propagated genotypes that commonly produce variants (genetic variation) since these can be more easily identified and rouged out in the field than in vitro.


Field genebanks however, are generally more expensive to maintain, requiring more labour, more inputs and more space (land) than other methods of conservation. They also have higher levels of risk from natural disasters and adverse environmental conditions like drought, floods or attacks from pests and diseases.

Practical considerations

Maintaining plants in field genebanks is costly and risky and this method of conservation is usually used when there are no available alternatives or the storage period of other alternatives is very short and not practical. Field genebanks are mostly used for the conservation of clonal crops, often complementary to other conservation methods such as in vitro and cryo banks. Field genebanks are particularly sensitive to germplasm health issues and regular monitoring and testing together with application of disease control measures is essential to maintain plants free of diseases. Although field genebanks may not be the most secure method of germplasm conservation, often they are the only practical and cost effective way to conserve germplasm of clonal crops, especially when resources and skills are limiting.

When field genebank conservation is the only viable alternative, careful planning and field management can help to mitigate the risks.

Some best practices for establishment and management of a field genebank include:



Field management

Pest and disease control

Monitoring accession identity

For more detailed information about when to store material in a field genebank see Reed et al., 2004.

References and further reading

Engels JMM, Visser L, editors. 2003. A guide to effective management of germplasm collections. IPGRI Handbooks for Genebanks No. 6. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. Available in English (1.4 MB) and Spanish (1.5 MB).

FAO. 2013. Genebank standards for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese here.

Reed BM, Engelmann F, Dulloo ME, Engels JMM. 2004. Technical guidelines for the management of field and in vitro germplasm collections. IPGRI Handbook for Genebanks No.7. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. Available here.

Saad MS, Ramanatha Rao V, editors. 2001 Establishment and management of field genebank, a Training Manual. IPGRI-APO, Serdang. Available here.

The Genebanks

The 11 CGIAR genebanks currently conserve 730,000 of cereals and grain legumes, forage crops, tree species, root and tuber crops, bananas and crop wild relatives.