Agricultural production faces a Herculean challenge to feed the increasing global population. Food production systems need to deliver more with finite land and water resources while exerting the least negative influence on the ecosystem. The unpredictability of climate change and consequent changes in pests/pathogens dynamics aggravate the enormity of the challenge. Crop improvement has made significant contributions towards food security, and breeding climate-smart cultivars are considered the most sustainable way to accelerate food production. However, a fundamental change is needed in the conventional breeding framework in order to respond adequately to the growing food demands. Progress in genomics has provided new concepts and tools that hold promise to make plant breeding procedures more precise and efficient. For instance, reference genome assemblies in combination with germplasm sequencing delineate breeding targets that could contribute to securing future food supply. In this review, we highlight key breakthroughs in plant genome sequencing and explain how the presence of these genome resources in combination with gene editing techniques has revolutionized the procedures of trait discovery and manipulation. Adoption of new approaches such as speed breeding, genomic selection and haplotype-based breeding could overcome several limitations of conventional breeding. We advocate that strengthening varietal release and seed distribution systems will play a more determining role in delivering genetic gains at farmer’s field. A holistic approach outlined here would be crucial to deliver steady stream of climate-smart crop cultivars for sustainable agriculture. © 2020 The Authors. Plant Biotechnology Journal published by Society for Experimental Biology and The Association of Applied Biologists and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.