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How that hot new hybrid got a start

The decision on which experimental hybrids to test is made at several stages of hybrid development by the plant breeder. Some plant breeders cross new inbred lines with two elite parent lines to create potential new hybrids. Each breeder might have 400 to 500 new lines each year, thus creating 800 to 1,000 new experimental hybrids.

Next, the breeder would group these in tests of similar relative maturity and include two hybrids sold by the company, plus two competitive hybrids. Each test may consist of 40 to 60 hybrids. These tests would be planted in a single replication design at six locations.

Key Points

• Each hybrid that hits the market starts as one of 800 to 1,000 experimental hybrids.

• Yield, standability and disease resistance are the main criteria in year two.

• Planting at multiple locations exposes hybrids to various environments.

Each location becomes a replication for data analysis purposes. So, if part of a location is lost, there are still five reps left of the hybrid.

Testing is the most expensive part of a breeding program. So, the goal is to eliminate as many hybrids as possible the first year. Testing at six locations exposes hybrids to more environments. Yield, standability and disease resistance are the most important criteria here. Normally, breeders discard 80% to 90% of these experimental hybrids.

Next step

Selected hybrids would be tested at 10 locations with two replications each. Yield, standability, disease tolerance, rate of dry down and test weight become important. Selected hybrids must be better than hybrids already marketed by the company.

Then comes year three. Breeders would increase the number of locations to 20 and include the best competitors’ products. Selected hybrids must compete with the best hybrids on the market in their relative maturity group.

If they do, they’ll qualify for strip-tests as pre-commercial hybrids. Up to this stage, the primary responsibility for hybrid selection rests with the plant breeders and their staff.

Nanda is a crops consultant and director of genetics and technology at Seed Consultants Inc. Contact him at, or call 317-910-9876.

Sorry, son, you don’t have the right stuff to get picked for the team!

How do seed companies decide which hybrids are kept and which get cut in the lineup? It’s the really hard part of seed selections. The process is almost like picking players for a football team.

I’ve worked for small, medium-sized and large companies. The process of product selection is often different at these levels.

Small companies have very limited testing programs. Sometimes they cooperate with other small companies in conducting tests. Then they exchange data since they don’t compete in each other’s geography. They depend upon information provided by genetic suppliers for new products.

Smaller companies may also pool resources for seed production. The decision on which hybrids to include in the lineup is generally made by the owners. These companies may be quite successful in finding certain hybrids that perform well in their marketing areas.

Medium players

Regional companies that market product in more than one state have some research programs for product development, as well as larger testing programs. These companies may have some proprietary products, but still depend heavily on lines provided by genetic suppliers.

When it’s time for a “yeah” or “nay” on a hybrid, they may use the committee approach. The committee may include the company president; directors of research, genetics and technology, and sales ad marketing; plus the production manager and the head of finance.

The breeder presents the potential new products to the committee. Then they’re evaluated for marketing needs in respective relative maturity, performance, production ability and cost of production. Some hybrids cost more to produce because of how the individual inbred must be handled in the field.

How large companies decide

Larger companies typically have a more formal approach. Each breeder in the company nominates hybrids for consideration to advance to the pre-commercial stage.

Lately, there seems to have been overemphasis placed on yield and herbicide- and insect-resistance traits at the expense of disease tolerance. At least that’s my observation. I believe it’s one reason farmers must depend on the use of foliar fungicides to protect some hybrids from diseases.

Based on marketing needs, performance, cost of production, feasibility, grade-out percentage and other factors, certain hybrids are advanced as pre-commercials. Hybrids not selected are discarded.

When does overseas production become crucial? If there’s a tremendous need for a hybrid or trait due to marketing demand, and the amount of foundation seed is limiting, it becomes more likely. The company might decide to increase foundation seed at winter locations, such as in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Argentina or Chile.

This article published in the November, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.