This Business of Breeding

December 31, 2008 06:00 PM

Pam Smith, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
The wind whips across the Illinois prairie creating a white noise that is more constant than not in the central part of the state. It doesn't bother Fritz Behr in the least. Today the field is his office as he evaluates thousands of hybrids on test for Wyffels Hybrids.
"This is one of the reasons I became a plant breeder,” he says, enjoying the escape from the office, despite the stiff breeze. Stand counts, emergence ratings, vigor scores and other measurements will fill his hand held computer and his head by day end. "This data is critically important as we advance hybrids through our breeding program,” says Behr.
This flat as a pancake acreage near Hartsburg, Ill., is just one of the 60-some yield trials the independent family-owned company plants each year. Based in Atkinson, Ill., the plots are all part of a quest to find new hybrids that will meet or exceed customer expectations. Hybrids get tested for multiple years before they are released to growers.
"The notes we take in early spring are just the beginning of the yearly process to characterize and understand the new class of experimental hybrids,” Behr says.  "For a hybrid to advance it needs to have the ability to establish an excellent stand and have at least decent early vigor.  The more critical notes come later in the season - breeders want to see excellent pollen and silk synchrony (pollen and silk emergence at the same time) as this is an important component of stress tolerance in corn.  
"After flowering, the next critical set of notes happens around black layer - stay green, disease reactions, summer root lodging ratings, husk "fluff" (early opening of husks to speed dry down).  Just prior to harvest the final standability (stalk and roots), plant health, and plant intactness ratings are completed.   When these ratings are merged with the yield trial data, it helps breeders predict the stability of a products performance.”  
The numbers of new hybrids Wyffels releases each year is actually based on performance of the experimental hybrids versus our commercial hybrids and competitor products. "In an ideal world, the company likes to replace about 25% of our base hybrids each year (not counting new trait versions of existing hybrids).  For Wyffels, that is about 6-7 new base genetics each year,” he adds. 

Behr figures it takes about 10,000 new inbreds to get one that make a decent impact a product lineup.  "In the life cycle of that new inbred, it might get used in multiple hybrids over numerous years to help ease the pain,” he says. 
Learn more about how seed corn companies score hybrids with Fritz Behr:


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