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Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources

Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) are the raw material that farmers and plant breeders use to improve the quality and productivity of crops. They can be defined as any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture, e.g. seeds, tubers, mature plants etc. The range of indigenous plant genetic resources in Ireland is relatively narrow but the collection and preservation of these resources could make an important contribution to future crop research both at home and abroad. Most agriculture seeds can be stored successfully for very long periods of time in storage facilities called genebanks. There are a number of PGRFA collections in Ireland conserved by both public sector bodies and non-governmental organisations. Details of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's PGRFA genebanks holdings are listed below.

National Genebank

The Department's Cereal Genebank at Backweston, Leixlip, Co. Kildare is designated as the national genebank for the country. Facilities have been upgraded and expanded at the Backweston genebank and its remit broadened to include safety duplicate storage for other important PGRFA collections held in the State. This provides a back up for any accidental loss of germplasm in other Irish genebanks and enables its replacement. The Backweston genebank shall also function as a designated location to deposit all types of PGRFA seeds of national importance that may be collected in Ireland in the future.


The potato is of immense historical, commercial and cultural significance to Ireland. Few plants have had as strong an influence on the destiny of a nation as the potato has exercised in Ireland. A living legacy of this long association is the unique collection of potato varieties which is maintained by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at its potato genebank at the Tops Potato Centre, located in Raphoe, Co. Donegal. Comprising over 400 unique potato varieties, the oldest of which pre-date the Irish Famine, the collection includes old and modern Irish varieties and varieties from abroad. The accessions are held both in vitro and in situ.

Some of the more commercially successful potato varieties grown in Ireland today were bred at the Teagasc Plant Breeding Station, Oakpark Research Centre, Co. Carlow. Teagasc run the only commercial potato breeding station in Ireland and maintain an extensive potato variety collection for use in their breeding programme.


Old indigenous varieties and landraces of Oats, Wheat and Barley were once commonly cultivated in Ireland. While some of these may still be found in rural areas in locations such as the islands off the west coast of Ireland, many of them are maintained in the Department's genebank at Backweston Farm, Leixlip, Co. Kildare. In addition, the Backweston genebank also conserves cereal breeding lines from the various cereal crop breeding programmes undertaken by the State over the past century.


Old indigenous varieties and landraces of various grass species and clovers once commonly found on Irish farms are stored in the Teagasc forages genebank which is located at their headquarters in Oakpark, Co. Carlow. Some of these varieties and landraces may still be found in rural areas particularly in the west of Ireland where marginal land and little reseeding of grassland has taken place.


Native and heritage varieties of apples are present in the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA) traditional Irish Orchard which is located on their premises near Scarriff, Co. Clare. This is in effect a “live genebank” in that the collection is a living collection in an orchard which makes safety duplication all the more important as a result of the additional risks from disease etc. Safety duplicates of the collection are located in UCD and in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Loughgall, Co. Armagh, while work is ongoing on establishing another fully safety duplicated site. Following extensive characterisation work involving the late Dr Michael Hennerty, ISSA and UCD an impressive publication titled “The Heritage Apples of Ireland” was published in 2015 with funding from the Genetic Resources Grant Aid Scheme (GRGAS). This publication includes for the first time both keys and descriptors that can be used to identify the various Irish heritage apple varieties.    

Crop Wild Relatives

Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) are species found growing in the wild that are genetically related to domesticated crops cultivated by humankind. Most are found growing as weeds in disturbed habitats, such as roadsides, field margins, orchards and traditionally managed agricultural land.

An important ex situ collection of CWR's are maintained in the National Genebank in Backweston. This extensive collection consists of 24 different crop species which were sourced primarily by Genetic Heritage Ireland with the assistance of funding from the Department's Genetic Resources Grant Aid Scheme.

The Department's Genetic Resources Grant Aid Scheme also funded a project by the National Biodiversity Data Centre establishing a dedicated website providing information on these important species along with an interactive database on their distribution in Ireland. Full details are available on the link below;

Database for Plant Genetic Resources

A database listing all the crops and varieties in Ireland's National Inventory for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is available at Eurisco which is a web portal that hosts data on crop diversity from 41 different country's National Inventories, and provides access to all ex situ Plant Genetic Resources information across Europe.