5 Things You May Not Know About Plant Breeding
Ever wonder how seed gets from the test plot to your field?
Once the hybrid is created — typically called the F1 generation — the work is far from over. “Product Development only provides us with a few grams of seed containing the new genetics,” says Darren Greenfield, Seed Production Manager at Cibus™ for Falco™ seeds. “My job is to take those few grams and turn them into the finished product; the tonnes of seed that go to market. I’m basically the manufacturing leg of the business.”
According to Greenfield, it’s a complex process. “The biggest challenge is increasing volume while maintaining purity to ensure every plant on a farmer’s field is the same. A lot of people don’t know the extent we go to in order to ensure we have clean lines of seed.” he explains. So we sat down with him to discuss the ins and outs of seed multiplication. Greenfield shares five facts you probably didn’t know about how your canola gets from the lab to your seed bag.
- It’s all about the petals
GREENFIELD: One of the characteristics I look for in a new parent line is the shape of the flower. This isn’t as much a concern for commercial farmers, since approximately 70% of their field will self-pollinate. But when we produce a hybrid, a large part of the field — the female plants — are sterile. Their anthers don’t produce pollen; the male plants do. So, we rely on pollinators, usually honeybees, to fertilize plants, and flower shape plays a huge part in whether or not the bees can get at the pollen.
Think of the petals as a landing pad for the pollinators. Honeybees will take the shortest route to the nectar. If we have what we call an open flower, the way the flower is shaped is, the petals come up and then fold out. If there’s enough space, the bee can fly under it to collect the nectar, which prevents it from distributing pollen to the stigma. So that’s one of the things I look at: the shape of the flower and whether it will cause challenges in moving pollen from males to sterile females.
- The worst parents make the best hybrids
GREENFIELD: People have asked, “If you see the parents, do you know what the hybrids will look like?” I have some indication from looking at the parental line because hybrids typically take the best from both parents. But we don’t know which traits those are going to be, so a lot of the time, I’m not sure what the finished product is going to look like. There’s a longstanding saying in the industry: “the worst two parents make the best hybrids.” Which basically means that the ones that are the hardest to produce make the best hybrids.
- Canola is at high risk for contamination during seed production
GREENFIELD: Canola is known to have a very high multiplication rate; it’s considered to be a thousand to one, so for each seed planted, we expect to get about 1,000 seeds back. If you think about it, at that scale, even a small amount of contamination during the production process can blow up quickly. So, there are a lot of steps when it comes to canola production to ensure we’re producing pure, clean lines of seed.
- It takes three growing cycles to bring Falco™ canola to market
GREENFIELD: We start with a small package with a few grams of seed in it. From there, we grow that seed in an isolated field and put a tent over it during the flowering process to reduce any chance of outside pollen coming through. We even put on Tyvek suits just in case we’re carrying pollen on our clothing. And that’s just the first increase, which gives us a few kilograms of seed.
From there, we take those kilograms and produce what we call a foundation seed field. That’s open air, but once again, it’s grown in a very isolated area, and we do everything we can to control pollen flow and ensure no contaminants can get into the field. Finally, we go into larger production, which are full fields that produce the tonnes of seeds we then bring to market.
- Your canola seed probably came from Chile
GREENFIELD: Even though it takes three growing cycles to produce a new canola hybrid, it only takes about a year and a half from receiving the new seed from Product Development to bringing that canola to market. We can turn it around that quickly because we do some of the growing in Chile, South America during the North American winter.
Typically, we get handoff from the production group in the American fall. So instead of waiting until spring, we do the first increase in Chile during the winter. That first increase is grown in tents. The following spring, we grow the foundation seed in Canada, then certified seed in Chile the next winter. That’s how we create our final product: the bags of seed the farmer buys from their local retailer. This is actually how most seed companies do it. Chile is one of the key production regions for the industry.