In the 35 years following the end of World War Two, about half the winter wheat yield gain was attributed to plant breeding - not better machines, agronomy or inputs.
The National Institute for Agricultural Botany added that, since the 1980s, the contribution of plant breeding to yield gain had shot up to more than 90 per cent. Research director Professor Andy Greenland said: "Crop improvement through plant breeding will be the major contributor to increased food production for the indefinite future."
He called for funding changes because income for commercial breeding through royalties on seeds was not enough to support more speculative, long-term research.
"There is a hiatus in the research pipeline. Much basic plant-science work is taking place on model crop species without being transferred to potentially useful crops."
The institute is contributing to a major food-crop production inquiry by the Royal Society.