What is Unique About Our Breeding/Selection Program
December 10, 2010
What is unique about our breeding/selection program is this:
- Our intent is to breed crops that show themselves to be highly adapted to the conditions and stresses found under organic conditions, and
- We view the plant as a partner in the breeding process and attempt to find the best plants working for whole-plant performance, with breeding and selection being a kind of dialogue with an evolving entity.
Our observations are that there is some kind of adaptation that occurs when plants are grown and selected under organic conditions which changes the phenotype. The basis of this adaptation may be complex (epigenetic and genetic and also microbial/endophytic) and it may influence many of the practical aspects of producing corn under organic conditions such as N efficiency and control of weeds. The dialogue between the breeding lines and the environment is is an active process that occurs irrespective of our efforts but we think it can be enhanced. Towards this end we employ selection under stress condition coupled with conventional test cross data from many sites. Resulting plants are recombined in meaningful ways within heterotic pools to enhance the kind of variation that is available for more breeding.
Our objectives: Our program has gone to an inbred/hybrid model, but we still produce populations for those who want them. Our major target is providing seed stocks to small seed companies. These seed companies want uniform inbreds for making hybrids. However, most commercial inbreds lack vigor and compete poorly with weeds. Thus our objective is to breed inbreds that resist inbreeding depression and compete under organic conditions. That appears to be possible, however, the robust inbreds appear to be capable of generating some amount of phenotypic variation.
A great deal of our effort is devoted to trying to combine nutritional value with yield and other desirable agronomic characteristics. This is not easy as protein content and yield are generally negatively related. The promise is to provide more high quality protein per acre rather than more starch per acre.
Our overall goals are to develop corn inbreds and associated breeding populations that as hybrids have:
- Reliably high grain nutritional quality and proven ability to satisfy the needs of food and feed;
- Reliably high standing ability, high yields of grain, and quick dry-down of grain;
- Adequate disease and insect resistance and excellent resistance to cold and wet soils during germination reducing the risk associated with not using fungicides;
- High seed integrity despite stresses associated with hot, humid summers during grain fill or mechanical stress associated with machine harvesting;
- Vigorous and leafy growth under conditions where N does not come from water soluble fertilizers; and
- Superior ability to compete with weeds, thereby adapting them for seed production under organic conditions.
We refer to this ideal combination of characteristics as our organic ideotype. Care will be taken to breed cultivars that fit into heterotic groups used by the seed industry in order to optimize hybrid vigor for grain yields. Our strategy is to identify and test superior parents on a somewhat continuous basis, so there is a constant flow of our best hybrids to farmers and seed companies for testing and increase.