What does it take to create a hybrid? What do you need to do and what things do you need to keep in mind? Dr. Peter Lynch, the VP of Research for AgReliant Genetics, gives Todd Steinacher a behind-the-scenes look into all of the work and processes that go into creating new hybrids to help farmers grow. We learn the techniques and the hard work that goes into growing hybrids and why these are the future of agriculture. Tune in to learn more on hybrid plants in this episode.
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How The Hybrid Happens with Dr. Peter Lynch
A Series With Dr. Peter Lynch
This episode is going to be 1 of 3 in a series called How the Hybrid Happens that will be released during the 2021 harvest season. To me, corn is a very interesting plant and I want to learn more about it and to be able to share knowledge of corn breeding for all of you. I would like to introduce our guest, Dr. Peter Lynch, VP of Research with AgReliant Genetics. Peter, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much, Todd. How are you doing?
I’m doing excellent. I’m very glad that you’re here with us to teach us about corn and all those pieces that go behind it. Before we dive into that, I always like to get a perspective of where people come from. If you could take a few moments and tell us about your corn breeding journey that’s led you to this point.
My name is Peter Lynch. I am the VP of Research for AgReliant Genetics. I’ve been with AgReliant for several years but I have been around corn breeding and field and seed research for a long time. I’m originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m a city kid but my connection to agriculture comes through my mother’s side of the family, who farmed in Central Iowa. I spent a lot of time there on relatives’ farms, enjoyed it, always thought I would like to be a farmer. I didn’t see a real clear path for me to be able to do that being from South Minneapolis. Along the way, I was always interested in genetics and biology and decided I would pursue agriculture.
When I was at the University of Minnesota going to school, a friend of mine introduced me to the corn breeding project there at school. I visited with a major professor who was leading that corn breeding project. His name was John Geadelmann. Dr. Geadelmann hired a handful of students each summer. I was one of the lucky few who got hired. I worked as a field technician for that first summer. I liked it so much that I continued with it. I completed my studies at the University of Minnesota. I knew that I wanted to make plant breeding my career. I went to graduate school and I went to Iowa State University. At Iowa State, I got a Master’s and a PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics.
A little bit different for me, Todd, was that during my education at Iowa State, I completed all my coursework. I spent two and a half years in India doing my field research and I worked on a crop called pearl millet. I was there for two and a half years, completed all my research, came back to Iowa, defended my degree in Dissertation and graduated from Iowa State and started my career in commercial breeding at that point. When I graduated from school, I joined a small family-owned seed company based in Northern Ohio and I was a popcorn breeder for that company. It was a wonderful job. I liked it a lot. It was very field-focused. I spent a lot of time in the field. It’s a small industry.
We connected closely with the processors who would buy the seed and they would contact production. It was a little bit unique as a breeder that I had this connection from my field research, right into the customer who was the processor. I always enjoyed that connection from my work into the ultimate user and where that crop would go. I spent a couple of years working in the popcorn industry and then had the opportunity. I joined a company. If you’re familiar with the seed business, there’s a real diverse pedigree of companies and organizations. There has been a lot of consolidation over the past several years but I joined a company that was named Kelton Seeds in Minnesota.
It morphed into Mycogen Seeds. I spent about ten years with Mycogen Seeds. I had the opportunity to go back into the interface between breeding and the commercial sector. I joined Monsanto several years ago. I was in between the breeding and the commercial sector as part of the Corn States Organization. I was a Genetics Expert with Corn States. Once again, I was connecting with licensees and connecting more closely with the farmer. The opportunity arose for me to join AgReliant and to lead an entire research organization. That was a huge opportunity to be able to step in and make a number of significant changes within the organization that are delivering some nice dividends in terms of product performance, product diversity and overall choice that we’re going to be able to offer to the market.
Our job is to make sure that we are doing our best to understand where the product will shine and allow it to do so.
Thank you for that great introduction, Peter. I’ve been spending a lot of time walking to PCRs and I’m happy with what I’m seeing out there from what you and your team are producing for us. I’m glad that you’re leading that portion. Your efforts are being recognized in the countryside.
Thanks a lot, Todd. It’s impressive what the PCR trials are looking like. We’ve made a lot of progress in the number of products in the lineup, the diversity that they represent and the level of performance that they contain. It’s exciting.
Peter, we think about it from a hybrid standpoint, most farmers buy hybrids but you spend most of your time looking at inbreds and a combination of hybrids before things get commercialized. Can you walk us through the process that a new product would go through before it would end up in a farmer’s planter to get planted? From start to finish.
It’s a lot of work and time. It requires the effort of many people. The journey for a new commercial product begins probably maybe about 8 or 9 years prior to that point. It takes about 8 to 9 years from the time the breeder initiates that what we call a breeding cross to create a new inbred line to the point where we have that inbred combined with another inbred to create a new commercial product. About 8 to 9 years, each year testing more intensively on the performance of that product, understanding its characteristics and where it does well and areas where we may need to manage attributes or characteristics of the product differently.
At each point along the way, most of the hybrids don’t cut the mustard, as I’d call it and we do need to discard them. Over the course of that eight years, we might start at the beginning of the pipeline with maybe as many as 100,000 different options. Eight years later, we’re down to a mere handful of options but they have been thoroughly tested. Between our research organization, as well as our agronomy organization, we have a deep level of understanding of that product and where it’s going to perform best.
I do appreciate coming from the agronomy team and agronomist’s side, we do get to watch some of these products before they go to a farmer’s field so when they do get a number on it, we’ve got a good understanding. Yes, it might be a good hybrid but some characteristics where it needs to be placed. That’s where our teamwork is strongly hand-in-hand with farmers, with their PAT pots or even with some of the PCRs out there and fine-tuning where it needs to go. Honestly, I’ve seen awesome hybrids come out of breeding programs and plots but if they’re placed wrong, we can see a lot of challenges with it and it might scare farmer offering from utilizing in the future. That’s where I appreciate AgReliant allows us to be a part of that process to help that placement recommendation at the end of the day.
It’s so important that we do that because that’s our job, to make sure that we are doing our very best to understand where that product is going to shine best and to give it the opportunity to shine best. That makes all the difference in having a successful product, getting it in the right place under the right circumstances.
Before we dive into deeper questions, Peter, as you think about corn in the lower states, it’s going to be a full season. As you go to the Northern tier, it’s going to be a very short season. I’m trying to wrap my brain around it. From a breeding standpoint, how do you make something a shorter season or longer season? I’m sure that those germplasms are sitting, waiting to be grabbed but before all this started, how did there become that such spread? Was it time and evolution that caused a lot of that?
Corn is an amazing crop, Todd. It has a tremendous amount of genetic diversity in it. That can be for the agronomic traits that we think of plant height, stock quality, ear quality, leaf architecture, the way that the tassel sits on the top of the plant, grain characteristics. It also has a lot of diversity for what I would characterize as maturity. Let’s go back 100 years and there would have been landraces. My grandfather would have grown an open-pollinated variety in Ogden, Iowa. He would have selected probably a few dozen ears out of that crop that he harvested and he would use that for seed the next year.
He knew what maturity he needed for that particular area of when he would plant and when it would mature. As ag and field research evolved and became more of a source of information for farmers, there were systems devised to understand how many days it took for a hybrid to mature. That system is now evolved to the point where we have an understanding of how many days from planting to flowering, how many days from flowering to the black layer, from black layer to dry down when you could harvest it at 15% or 17% moisture, something like that.
We, as breeders, understand what the maturity range is for the market that we’re working in. Todd, we have ten research sites and they’re distributed around the corn belt, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana. Each of those breeding programs is focused on a band of maturity and the breeders then have a pool of germplasm that they can work with within each of those bands that are appropriate for their environment.
Over the course of decades of breeding, these populations and pools of germplasm have been developed that are well adapted to that particular environment and represent the backbone of what the breeders would turn to for developing new and better products. They also tap into what we would call unadapted germplasm in each one of those areas. Todd, that helps them bring in new attributes and characteristics that may not exist within that current pool of germplasm.
Let me give you an example. They’re very long seasoned products that are growing in the tropics. There has been a significant amount of success of taking practical hybrids from South Asia, Southeast Asia and bringing them into the breeding programs in the far Southern part of the United States, intercrossing with some of the full season breeding pools. Over time, gradually, the breeders in the South hand off some of the inbreds to the breeders in the mid-South and in the core of the corn belt moving progressively and up into the earlier maturities.
That’s one of the ways in which diversity is introduced from other parts of the globe into our corn belt germplasm. We always have to keep an eye on that these products need to be planted generally in Indiana. Most of the Indiana farmers are going to start may be in the Southern part of the state. They’ll get to start very early April in the Northern part of the state. They’re going to want to be starting maybe the third week in April. We know that we need to be developing hybrids in those areas that can be planted in April and they’re going to be ready to harvest somewhere around the 15th of September. We’d expect them to be drying down and getting ready to be harvested in the next probably 5 or 6 weeks. That’s how we go about bringing in new diversity, new germplasm, new traits and still maintain the maturity that is needed for that particular market in that particular environment. I hope that answered your question, Todd.
It helped fill in a few loose spots or blank spots I had because you sit back, think about there are all these different varieties of maturities and different characteristics. How does that all play together? To me, it goes back 100 years how this process and these pools have started to move around and the different breeding stations have their cluster and things are shared back and forth so you’re always, probably, grabbing some characteristics as it moves it around. I appreciate you clarifying that for me. Peter, to make a hybrid, that’s what a grower’s going to plant. That’s what you’re trying to make. In your opinion, what is a hybrid itself?
A hybrid has a couple of different meanings. I’m going to give the meaning for pretty much everybody who is reading this, I’ll give that meaning first but then I’m going to relay a different meaning when breeders talk about hybrids, what they mean. For our farmer customers, a hybrid represents the cross of two inbreds, a male inbred and a female inbred. We get hybrid vigor from that. That hybrid vigor is the magic that makes things happen. That’s where the 300-bushel yield comes from through that hybrid vigor.
We, as breeders, understand what the maturity range is for the market we’re working in.
There are different characteristics in each of those inbreds and our breeders treat each of those inbred pools differently. They collectively approach their breeding programs around improving female inbreds and they also have a very targeted effort around improving male inbreds. They don’t generally, in their breeding programs, cross males and females together. They like to keep those pools separate until we bring them together for the ultimate commercial product. That’s the most common way that I think of and our customers will think of like a hybrid. It’s a cross between two elite, high-producing, highly-bred and refined inbreds, a male and a female, to create that hybrid seed that our customer grows.
Peter, I would almost imagine our readers are out there saying, there’s all these pools of inbreds, males and females. How do you know which ones to make the cross to make that silver bullet, the best hybrid that AgriGold has to offer? How do you know how to make that combination? Are there digital tools or do you do it on a computer before you take it to the field? Do you just take it to the field and a lot of trial and error?
It’s a complex process and it’s always evolving. It’s always changing a little bit, getting a bit more sophisticated, a bit more refined, leveraging new technologies but ultimately, the breeders are using the knowledge that they have acquired over years. Breeding is one of those activities where, as a person gets more experienced, they get better at the job. Time is an advantage for many breeders. They get to understand the pedigrees, the lineage. Let’s say I’m working with the new female inbred, brand new, going into a new commercial product. That new female inbred has a lineage behind it and the breeders know those lineages. They know what the positive and the negative attributes of that lineage was.
That’s what they’re trying to fix through breeding. Let’s say that brand new inbred has, for example, a higher level of disease resistance than one of the other parents that gave rise to it. The breeders are thinking about the past and what were the issues and challenges that they had in the past and how can they take different sources of germplasm and incorporate them to solve those problems that they encountered in the past.
In that way, they’re able to create a new inbred that addresses whatever that challenge was. Disease is something that we’re always working to improve the level of field tolerance in the hybrid. Another example can be agronomic attributes on stock quality or root quality. If a hybrid is outstanding for its yield level but it has a challenge with test weight in some situations where it’s lighter than we would like it to be or the customer needs simply a higher test weight, our breeders can think about what are sources of higher test weight that I can use to improve that parent that seems to be contributing that, in this example, lower test weight.
That’s the way that our breeders create a new, improved product. They think about the past and leverage the knowledge that they have of the germplasm, of the inbreds. Increasingly though, Todd, start to leverage and use new technologies. Our memories are only so good. As we start to work with more inbreds and we get to a deeper level on the genetic characteristics all the way down to the DNA level, we start to have to use tools that help us summarize and understand attributes in a way that we didn’t in the past. Technology is always improving. A good breeder uses their knowledge of the past but they have to leverage that technology as it evolves for them to be more successful in the future.
You referenced inbreds a few times. I would like to take a rabbit trail down the path of inbreds. We talked about a given hybrid that may take 8 to 9 years. How long for an inbred to get through the process to where it enters the phase where it starts crossing with other inbreds to try to make that hybrid. How long does pre-building that inbred may take?
That process is going to take about four years. That’s the focus within AgReliant. Our research team is divided largely into two groups. There’s one group of breeders who are focused on creating new inbreds. We call that group of breeders inbred line breeders. They’re responsible for creating that new inbred line that ultimately is going to become a parent of a product. They work with it for about four years. Once they have generated a large enough data package to show that that inbred is elite and is performing in a way that justifies us to continue to spend resources on further developing and characterizing it, after about that fourth year then we hand it off into another group of breeders. They are called hybrid product breeders.
That team is very familiar with the commercial products that are currently being sold, what the pedigrees are of those products and starting to put together these brand new inbreds into combinations that will become the new commercial products. There’s the inbred line breeder at the front end of the pipeline and then the hybrid product breeder that comes in at that later stage of the pipeline. They work with it for about three years, Todd and then ultimately it’s that PCR team starts to characterize it before the decision to commercialize or potentially to drop that hybrid. That PCR team is the last stop for that inbred becoming a commercial product. Does that make sense?
It does. I appreciate that. A follow-up to that and you alluded to different inbreds having different characteristics that they bring to the table. There might be a male that we like these characteristics and the female we like these characteristics. From the plant standpoint or maybe the value from a grower standpoint, would one potentially be, say, the male, does that give more of the high-end yield potential and the architecture where the female maybe comes in and protects it from health? Can both contribute to both sides of that?
They can both contribute to that ultimate hybrid package. The reason that we grew up inbreds into females into males, it primarily has to do from a production standpoint. When we grow seed, that female inbred needs to be a good seed parent. It needs to yield a large amount of seed. The male needs to be a very reliable pollen producer. That’s the function of the female and of the male in that production field. Males got to be able to produce pollen under ideal conditions, okay conditions, challenging conditions. It needs to produce that pollen so that it can make that seed on the female. The female needs to have seed characteristics of the seed on that female ear. It can’t have something called a silk scar.
It needs to be relatively clean. It needs to have a uniformity of size. It needs to ultimately yield a large number of finished units for the production team to process and for us to be able to sell. The female inbreds need to be great seed parents. The male inbreds need to be great pollinators. What they contribute to that actual hybrid doesn’t follow one side or the other as a rule. I can find health on the female side of the pedigree. I can find it on the male side of the pedigree. The breeders may choose in their breeding programs to concentrate some of their effort on one side of the other but ultimately in that product that the farmer buys, it’s been married together in that hybrid seed so that you have the best combination of the attributes of both the male and the female.
Thank you for clarifying that. I’m sure readers are in the same boat sometimes. You start thinking hybrids and inbreds and it starts getting confusing how it all plays together. In college, I worked at a breeding station so I spent a lot of time detasseling, shoot bagging, making crosses, they would never let me know what I was working on. At one point, I did find out that it was a future project to Smart Stacks. It was neat that in college, I was helping work on it because I was in sales before coming to agronomy so I got to sell it when it started to enter the marketplace.
My questions are more trying to figure out what I was doing for five years when I was doing all that because they wouldn’t tell us. I appreciate you connecting those dots for me. Peter, as we think about it, we’ve got the inbreds that we like, we’re going to start crossing together to figure out what combinations work. The term trait integration gets referenced a lot. Could you explain what trait integration is and at what layer does a trait enter the inbred or the hybrid?
I’m going to step back before I describe what is commonly known as trait integration. I’m going to step back and say, there are two different groups of traits. There’s going to be something that we call native traits and those do reside within the existing corn germplasm. Examples of native traits could be disease resistance, grain color, the ability to produce more than one ear on a plant. Those are attributes that we could breed for and they exist within corn. That’s a native trait. More commonly, though, we’re talking about what I would call biotech traits or ag traits and those represent either insect protection above-ground insects or below ground insects or herbicide tolerance.
That’s the focus of the AgReliant Trait Integration Team. We have a tremendous group of people focused on incorporating those egg traits. Todd, you’re aware we’re in a great position at AgReliant to be able to incorporate into our germplasm Agrisure traits as well as traits like Smart Stacks. We have a lot of options in our research to be able to incorporate those traits into our germplasm. Trait integration means when we have one of our inbreds, a female parent and we have tested it for about three years and we’ve now understood after three years that this is a pretty good inbred. It seems to be showing a lot of promise. At that point, we decide we’re going to start to get it in a position to have insect protection or herbicide tolerance so that we want it to be finished and ready to commercialize at the same time that the version of that inbred that doesn’t have the egg traits.
Breeders have to leverage technology as it evolves for them to be more successful in the future.
We want them to hit the commercialization process at the same point. After about three years of creating and working on that inbred, it enters into the trait integration team’s process through a pretty involved process of incorporating that egg trait. Over the next three years, they incorporate that trait and then they test in the field for multiple years to ensure that it’s performing as expected and similar to the un-traited version. We may cross among those new traited inbreds and create a traited hybrid that contains that insect protection. That’s a thumbnail sketch of the process where the trait integration team takes that promising inbred, incorporates those traits into it and then hands it back off into the breeding organization for them to be able to make hybrids that we test. Ultimately, a few of them are going to get commercialized.
As a follow-up there, Peter, when the trait is coming into the hybrid and we have products out there that have multiple herbicides, multiple above, below, some of these new trait combinations coming out. Is all of it on the male or female? Is it split and they both come together to bring all the traits together into the hybrid seed?
We do convert both the female inbred and the male inbred. We choose to stack some of those genes onto the female side of the pedigree and we stack some of the other genes onto the male side of the pedigree but there are some combinations, Todd, where we can use a conventional male with the traited female and get that traited product that the farmer needs. An example would be 3110. 3110 is an Agrisure product that has above-ground protection, herbicide tolerance. We incorporate those genes on the female side of the pedigree.
The male side of the pedigree doesn’t have any of these biotech traits on it. It’s a conventional male. We cross them together to see that we sell. The farmer plants is an insect protected herbicide-tolerant product. There’s another product that is popular. 3220 has that same female conversion but we put an additional insect control trait onto the male side of the pedigree. That would be an example where we have to convert both the female inbred and the male inbred. It’s a bit of a mix, Todd. Sometimes we have to convert only the female. Sometimes we have to convert both the female and the male.
Peter, I’ve got maybe an odd question. As you get traits from trait providers and again, this may come off very odd, how does the trait physically get to the breeding station? Is it something that shows up in a FedEx truck and a box and throws it in? Is it already in corn germplasm, we got to breed into them, breed out? How does that physically get to it? If that makes sense.
It’s not intuitive. There’s this trait and it provides this protection. How does AgReliant receive that from the trait originator and how does the trait integration team then incorporate it into the end of the inbred? When AgReliant gets access to a trait, something called MIR162 is an important, powerful, above-ground insect control trait. Our trait integration team would have received from Syngenta, something called a donor. That donor is a corn inbred that contains that MIR162 and then our trait integration team uses that donor to start to cross that into our inbreds, our germplasm. It arrives at us in the form of corn seed that we plant.
We use the pollen off of that plant to cross onto our inbreds and carry that MIR162 trait into our germplasm and ultimately create a converted inbred. I’m going to step one step back behind that, though, Todd and let me explain how a donor is created. That’s where the gene that creates the protein that kills the bug could be incorporated into that corn donor in a handful of different ways but ultimately, whichever way the lab chooses, it could introduce it into a cell culture of that donor inbred that the new gene gets picked up into the DNA of that donor.
A plantlet is growing inside of a Petri dish or Erlenmeyer flask, that plantlet is transferred out of that Petri dish into a peat pot in a greenhouse. That plant has grown up to maturity. It’s increased and that becomes the donor that ultimately we would receive to be able to cross into our germplasm. It’s an involved process that takes a lot of time, involves lab-focused-oriented people, molecular biologists but ultimately it does need to get into a corn plant that then our trait integration team uses as a donor for incorporating into our proprietary inbreds.
One follow-up, Peter. When the biotech traits first started coming out, they always referred or referenced it to the gene gun. I’m sure everybody got to see it as they took tours everywhere. You referenced the cell cultures. Are both of them still used now? Is the cell culture more of a modern practice that everybody’s using? Are they both still use kind depending on the situation?
They’re both still used depending upon the situation but I imagine many of our readers have heard of gene editing and something called CRISPR-Cas9. That’s the cutting edge and the future of how traits and modifications could be made to our plants that deliver the attributes that are going to be needed by our farmer customers or ultimately by the consumer. In the past when I started out my career, when I was at Iowa State, I got to see the gene gun. That was a lot of years ago. Now, we have evolved to the point where this CRISPR transformation system represents the cutting edge and is going to have a profound impact at some point in agriculture and our breeding programs. It’s not here yet for us but it’s coming. It’s on the horizon. Our connection back into our joint venture partners of KWS and Limagrain gives my team access to that cutting-edge technology to be able to incorporate those traits as we discover them into our germplasm.
One follow-up there, Peter, on the CRISPR technology. Correct me if I’m wrong but say in 2020 there are a lot of Southern rust, tar spot. Is this something to worry about in the future if they can isolate where that tolerance and susceptibility is that they can go in, tweak it or turn it off or on and make that inbred, which leads to the hybrid more tolerant to either of those diseases? Am I thinking the right path?
You are thinking the right path. It’s pretty much that straightforward, as you’re describing it, to be able to tweak certain genes, to be able to get us the outcome or output that we’re looking for. The hard part is understanding at the gene level what that gene is doing, how it is regulated, how the environment impacts it. There’s often a great deal of basic research that needs to be conducted to understand the impact the effect of that individual gene. If there are multiple genes, those multiple genes take a lot of time and it is complicated to make happen. We’re getting better at that of being able to isolate those genes, understand their impact and how they change the corn plant but that takes a significant amount of time, that basic understanding.
In the last several years since I’ve been directly in the industry, we’ve seen a lot of big jumps as far as all the traits that have been offered, the new characteristics that have improved, yield improvements. If you look at the last several years maybe to get to this point, it’s been relatively slow but you look in the last few years, there have been some major jumps to advance corn production and even has probably led into soybean productions as well. To think what the next 15 to 100 years could bring, the science is coming into this, to me, it’s incredible where this thing could go.
It is so exciting as a breeder, as a geneticist, as somebody who loves agriculture, the ways in which these technologies are going to offer choices to our customers and to the consumer, they’re going to be amazing.
Peter, we’re going to take a slight turn in our conversation and focus on some of your takes on what makes the R&D of AgReliant so unique to the industry.
When I think about AgReliant and our research team and what makes us unique, I have to go back to the germplasm. Germplasm for a breeder is the point and the place where it all happens. That’s where the performance is going to come from. AgReliant is 1 of 4 global germplasm pools. That is a big deal. Our breeders each year create a large number of inbreds that are AgReliant’s and nobody else’s.
A person needs to be connected to the crop and the field to communicate what works well and what doesn’t.
We also, through our connection into our joint venture partners of KWS and Limagrain, have access to inbreds from their organizations that may be of value to us here. Maybe we could use them directly in some cases, not many but sometimes but they’ll be valuable for our breeders in accessing new traits and being able to solve new problems and continue to move our yield productivity forward.
That’s one of the key unique attributes of the AgReliant R&D team. Our germplasm, unique, high-performing and it’s both broad and deep because of our connection into these organizations that are global seed research organizations. That’s my first stop when I think about AgReliant and what makes us different. It’s our germplasm. It is nobody else’s. That’s going to make us unique. Take that, then. Once we have that, how do we go about developing and taking that potential and turning it into a great product?
Another way that our team stands out is what I like to call field focus. I was talking to somebody about for the first 20, 25 years of my career, I said I was probably never more than 5 feet away from a corn plant in the month of September from 6, 7 days a week. We were always in the field looking at a product, understanding what was working, what was not working. We have the germplasm and we have an intensity around understanding our team and our breeders and our PCR regional agronomists and your agronomy team of being in the field and understanding performance.
That, to me, is setting our research team apart from some of the other organizations that are maybe going in some different direction. I like to think that we’re incorporating many or most of those different technologies but ultimately, I am a deep believer that a person needs to be connected to that crop and that field so that we can communicate what works well and doesn’t work well. That’s another way that I see us differentiating. We’ve made huge investments in our research organization. As I step back and I think about the opportunity that we have with germplasm, the connections that we have to these global seed players, for me, it’s important that we be outstanding. We should be the best when it came to producing research seed and getting that research seed into the field and evaluated so that we understand what is performing and not.
I think of that as another way that we differentiate ourselves. We have over 200 locations where we’re evaluating our hybrids at the research level. That gives us an understanding of where a product performs and if it should be moved through the system. We’re unique in our germplasm, in the way that our team is focused in the field and understanding performance and lastly, investments that we have made in creating great seed, getting it into the ground, caring for that plot at a high level, best in class yield testing teams. That translates into data that ultimately our breeders make decisions on to drive the process forward. Three things. Germplasm, field focus, investment in the process.
Peter, we can all appreciate those three pieces that you highlight that makes us unique. I can say for myself and probably speak for a lot of my counterparts in the agronomy team, walking the PCRs, our own plots, looking at some of the fast-track products and some of the experimentals coming out. When you go through the fields, you start smiling. I follow a lot of my counterparts on Twitter and they’re always sharing these new products, the new XA. To me, if something does very well in all these other geographies and it’s doing well in my geography because a lot of the harvest stuff’s coming from the deep South. As harvest moves closer to me, I start getting excited for that. I can’t appreciate everything you are doing because we’re seeing it in the fields and some of these new products coming to the market. Thank you for your efforts.
We love doing it.
Peter, as we wind down this episode, maybe if there’s anything that within our pipeline in the future that gets you excited, I know you referenced those three things that make us unique. Is there anything about corn breeding or the path of AgReliant or the ag industry in general that gets you excited to be at the seat that you’re at?
I did talk about germplasm, the field focus and our investment in the process. One thing that I do want to share with the readers is we made a decision in about 2017. We took a look at the size of the pipeline and we took a look at the numbers of hybrids that we were testing at that late stage of the pipeline that is close to being commercialized. We did a pretty thorough assessment and came to the conclusion that we have a lot of strong inbreds that we should be making more of these hybrids and testing them. Think of the sports analogy. When you have more shots on your goal, you’re likely to be successful.
What we did, Todd is that we expanded the size of the pipeline. We more than doubled it. Significant investment, our hybrid breeders used some tools to help them identify what were the best combinations to make. We doubled the size of that pipeline to give us more shots on goal, to be able to push us to a higher level of performance than what we had been in the past and to be able to hand that off to the PCR team and to our product management group for them to make the decision about which to commercialize. That’s something that I get excited about, Todd. When I think of the choice that we made to expand our pipeline, to put more hybrids into the field, to give us more shots on goal for us ultimately, to be more successful, I get super excited about that.
That’s something close to our research team of what we do. From the first time that I worked in a corn research nursery in 1983. That was a long time ago. I still maintain that that excitement each time that I had the opportunity to get back out on the field and interact with our breeders. That excitement and that passion are shared with every one of our AgReliant R&D team. We’re a strong team, committed and dedicated to this job that we’ve chosen, which is a genetic improvement. It’s not easy but that’s what gets us to jump out in the bed in the morning and with the possibility that as we get to this time of year, September and October, that’s when our data starts to come in. That’s when we start to get our report card and we start to understand what progress we have made. That gets all of us fired up to know how are we going to be able to take all of our efforts and turn that into more for our customers.
Peter, all that is a lot to be excited for across your team and as far as myself on the agronomy team. With that, Peter, we’re going to close out our episode. I do greatly appreciate your time and your knowledge that you help fill in a few gaps for me as it relates to some of the inbred pieces. I do appreciate it. I’m sure our guests do as well.
Thank you, Todd. I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you. I want to thank all of the readers for their support. Without their interest in our products, my team, everything that we do, Todd, is predicated upon commercial success and our customers finding value in what we do. I appreciate that support because we enjoy that job that we have of genetic improvement. Thank you.
Friends, I’d like to encourage you to keep coming back for our series with Dr. Peter Lynch. For those of you reading from a field or shop, I wish you a safe harvest and productive harvest. Until next time. Thank you.
Friends, I encourage you to keep coming back to catch the rest of the series, How the Hybrid Happens with Dr. Peter Lynch. For those of you reading, I wish you all a safe and productive harvest. Until next time.
About Dr. Peter Lynch
As vice president of research, Peter Lynch drives the strategic direction of corn breeding and research at AgReliant Genetics. Peter leads a diverse and talented team of researchers focused on developing unique, highly productive inbred lines and commercial hybrids. He is a member of the company’s operating committee and board member of Genective, LLC, a biotech discovery joint venture of KWS and Limagrain.
Peter’s interest in agriculture began while helping on a relative’s farm in central Iowa. From that experience, he homed in on his passion – plant breeding. Peter holds his Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy from the University of Minnesota and Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in plant breeding from Iowa State University.
Prior to joining AgReliant, Peter spent 12 years with Monsanto Co. in various breeding and leadership roles and 10 years as a corn breeder with Dow AgroSciences. He started his commercial breeding career as a popcorn breeder for a small, family-owned seed company with operations in Ohio and Iowa.
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