The research conducted at PBI concentrates on plant breeding and its related areas. Plant breeding encompasses a wide range of skills and disciplines including molecular biology, plant pathology, agronomy and cereal chemistry. Plant breeding research and cultivar development activities at PBI span the laboratory and field.

One of the major diseases of winter cereals and a key selection target for cereal breeders are the cereal rusts. The rust group at PBI; is funded by the GRDC. The Australian Cereal Rust Control Program (ACRCP) based at Cobbitty is often cited as a model program for national cooperation. This program is also recognised internationally as one of the leading research groups working on cereal rusts. The PBI has worked on these diseases since its establishment and has produced a number of world leading scientists both in Australia and internationally who aim to assist plant breeders in the quest for rust resistant crop cultivars. .

The Plant Breeding Team at PBI integrates molecular genetics lead by Prof. Peter Sharp with theoretical and applied plant breeding lead by Prof. Richard Trethowan. The Molecular Group collaborates with national and international groups and concentrates on marker technologies and tilling. The focus of the plant breeding group is broad and covers a wide range of crop species. Activities include wheat pre-breeding focusing on abiotic stress tolerance in disease resistant backgrounds, dual purpose triticale, mustard breeding for biodiesel and pulse breeding including faba bean and field peas. The team exploits various technologies including tissue culture, double haploids and integrated genomics. Prof. Richard Trethowan is also the Director of the IA Watson Grains Research Centre, Narrabri. Narrabri is a key field site and is used to validate laboratory and greenhouse experiments and to manage the day to day plant breeding operations. The plant breeding research conducted at PBI is augmented by extensive national and international linkages.

The other major studies conducted in plant breeding at the Institute focuses on horticulture both environmental and ornamental.
Environmental Horticulture lead by Dr Peter Martin, Director of Amenity Plant Sciences works with the amenity horticulture industries to achieve the best plants under the current environmental constraints they are working in. This involves mainly the turf industry and statutory authorities that are concerned with environmental impacts.
Ornamental Horticulture at the Institute has been linked historically with one major benefactor and this has lead to the development of a company known as NuFlora International that presents the results of our research into new varieties plants to international companies. Graham Brown, our Horticultural Development Manager, has been involved in this project since the beginning and has established an international reputation for the plants being produced for the world market.