Plant breeders disrupt Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium through selection, non-random mating, drift, migration and mutation. Sustainable plant breeding can be defined as productive and competitive breeding that is achieved without loss of genetic diversity in the elite breeding population during the professional career of the breeder. Breeding is often productive but not sustainable. From 1974 to 2000, the animal breeding programme Meatlinc in the United Kingdom had effective population size of 95, population inbreeding of 0.19% per year and generation interval of 2.15 years. Genetic progress in Meatlinc tripled in the 8 years following introduction of best linear unbiased prediction (BLUP) selection (based on the information from relatives) in 1992. Canola breeding in Australia from 1970 to 2000 had longer generation interval (6 years), smaller effective population size (0.7% per year). BLUP selection in canola was first reported in 2010. Neither programme replaced genetic diversity lost through selection and drift. Most breeding programmes violate conditions of the infinitesimal model, thereby reducing predictability of selection, but breeders can minimize these limitations to sustainable plant breeding. © 2012 Blackwell Verlag GmbH.