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Shortening breeding time – private and public

Most see it as a good thing, if not necessary.


November 14, 2007
By Top Crop Manager

Topics

12aThe process of breeding new seed has long been a topic of discussion, often
with particular side issues polarizing viewpoints. It can be the use of science,
as in biotechnology, versus traditional breeding, or an issue closer to the
heart of the grower, like bin-run versus certified seed. Or it can be as simple
as the perception of 'Public versus Private'.

More than the others, this latter case is less of a debate. The use of 'versus'
is even suspect. Among breeders from both sectors, there is the accepted view
that one complements the other and that there is a place for both in the agri-food
industry.

In the past few years, many private sector companies have benefitted from the
use of dihaploid or doubled haploid technology in corn, barley or canola. The
process has enabled seed breeders to drastically reduce the time taken to produce
breeder seed, from eight years down to just under two. The seed must still go
through the seed production phase as well as performance trials to develop a
yield history. But the development is a definite boon to the grower and the
industry as a whole.

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The benefits are obvious: improved hybrids and varieties are brought to market
sooner while emerging challenges in weed, disease and pest control can be addressed
more quickly. But are there any aspects that are not being addressed in advancing
the breeding process?

The editors at Top Crop Manager present this reader forum, offering
the opinions and perspectives of various representatives from the private and
public sector. This offers a balanced view from both sides of the breeding industry,
not a cause to judge one over the other.

Fred Sinclair, manager of product development, Pride
Seeds

"With the dihaploid program, plus the use of winter facilities, we can
get up to 3.3 generations per year. Now, once we have an inbred developed, we
have the testing process, but we're able to test maybe 100 lines versus 20,
like they did seven years ago, and we're able to do that within a time period
of four years. So at the end of the day, we'll likely have one hybrid that comes
out of that in five years, versus waiting 10 years.

"Even for what I'm testing, I see 85 hybrids at the advanced level. That
used to be about 35 hybrids, and we are testing them from 2100CHU to 3400CHU,
so we've widened our maturity, we're doing more testing and more mixing of things
on different soils and herbicide programs. So when it gets to the farmer level,
that is a plus because once we get there, we've actually got a pretty good data
package on what we sell."

Dr. Duane Falk, cereal breeder, University of Guelph
"A lot depends on the crop they're working on because some of them do not
have doubled haploid techniques available. Doubled haploid does one thing very
well, and that gives you a pure line in one step, but it does not shortcut the
evaluation stage of it. It's not hard to come up with something new and different,
but coming up with something better: that's the challenge.

"If you shortcut the evaluation to any extent, you may not pick up certain
defects and what I'm finding, certainly in cereals, is that the in-house evaluation
system has become quite condensed and as a result, we have things that look
good for one or two years in performance trials and then fall flat on their
face with disease or agronomic problems. And that should have happened during
the evaluation stage, but maybe they weren't evaluated enough to pick that up."

Don McClure, soybean breeder, Syngenta Canada
"We've made great strides in the last 15 years in plant breeding, so all
of this is leading to quicker breeding cycles. And for growers, the benefit
is they get the new varieties or the new technologies in their hands quicker
and that benefits everyone in the business from the seed company to the grower
and the end-user.

"The stakes are definitely higher and there's a lot more pressure on the
plant breeders, to first of all adopt the technology and introgress it into
locally adapted varieties, and then get them into a variety or hybrid that's
suitable for the local area. And there is far more pressure than there used
to be. But that's just the way life is anymore, we are on a very fast-paced
schedule and it is expected."

Dr. Istvan Rajcan, soybean breeder, University of
Guelph

"We don't have the luxury of a doubled haploid system in soybeans and I
wish we did. To shorten the development period, we can use winter nurseries,
we can also use growth rooms. But that is very expensive, so we only send our
seeds to the winter nursery once.

"I'm not under as much pressure to release varieties fast, which is a
good thing. That allows me to think things through a little more carefully,
to take time or use more creative methods of producing things that aren't necessarily
quick but may actually bring better results long-term, like testing exotic germplasm,
for example. It doesn't perform well here, so when you cross it with adapted
Ontario varieties, most of the progeny won't perform well, either. But if you
cross it and identify that 10 percent seems interesting and cross it again,
in the end, you produce something in a few years that is similar to OAC Bayfield
or better, because we have incorporated new variation. Speed doesn't necessarily
equal quality."

Alejandro Hernandez, breeder, Monsanto Canada
"If we were to have a corporate mandate to do things faster all the time,
and we were getting push-back from the farmer that they don't want to change
to something new, then I would feel the squeeze between two opposing views.
But both of them are pushing the same way.

"The new tools that we have to breed are great. They are allowing us to
solve problems that we couldn't solve before, and we do that faster. However,
one of the implications is that these new processes are more resource-intensive,
so those players with the most limited resources will not be able to keep up
the pace. Farmers were used to having access to new varieties, new genetics,
improved genetics from the public sector and that breeding effort, that research
was funded by the government or society at large. Today, that has changed and
the immediate value of that seed is more of a user-pay."

Martin Harry, eastern marketing, SeCan Association
"It's the way the technology has changed. I don't think we're losing anything.
If we can get four years of data, then we know there's a consistency that we
turn around and offer to our seed growers, and then to the farmer. In the meantime,
we're in that rush to get things to market, as well.

"Anything they can do to cut that breeding time down is a benefit to everyone.
But we still need that basic testing once the varieties get to the point where
we can put it into the private trials, the performance trials, and even to a
point for the seed grower trials. With the seed grower, that's where it's determined.
We've come out with varieties in the past that got to the seed grower, and they
grew it one year from breeder seed and they didn't pursue it because they said,
'Okay, we gave it a try but we're not going to spend any more money on this'."

Dr. Steven King, research scientist, Pioneer Hi-Bred
"Our philosophy has been not to search for a game-changing hybrid that
is going to change the industry. It's all about incremental improvement in yield,
agronomic characteristics and disease characteristics. So each year, we're raising
that bar by a couple of percentage points in terms of extra yield potential,
and that's cumulative. The entire industry's been amazing over the last several
decades to have that constant improvement in yield potential, year after year.

"And we don't want to shorten the process too much, because the key thing
with biology and breeding is the interaction between genetics and the environment.
And every season's different, so something that did well last year in a cool,
short season may not do well this year when it's been hot and dry. So we need
those multiple years of testing, before we release something to our customers,
and have confidence that a single hybrid is going to do well in those different
extremes and everything in between."

Dr. Gary Ablett, chair, plant agriculture department,
University of Guelph

"Doubled haploid soybeans? We can't do it. People have tried and not been
successful yet, but maybe one day.

"Doubled haploid in corn is just short of being fairly successful and
fairly routine. But one thing about the corn industry is that it is a high-end,
commercial business and in fact, it's a race. And anything new that they think
will allow them to move forward quicker for an individual company, that should
be a competitive advantage.

"The whole crop breeding business in reality just mirrors society, it
is the same thing. It's people's expectations for immediate results, no matter
what. I think it is here and at least from a company standpoint, I don't see
how a modern seed company is going to survive without the ability to turn around
product pretty fast." -30-