3/26/14 - Retest the Best & Throw Away the Rest!

Dr. Blake inspects Yuma Nursery

I just returned from checking the crop progress at our nursery in Yuma, Arizona. We have contracted 10 acres about 10 miles north east of the old Territorial prison. Nate Cooling, our research associate, and I planted almost 5,000 plots there in late October and early November. These plots represented many different testing stages or generations such as F3, F5, preliminary and elite testing lines. This winter nursery provides us with testing seed for future years, plus a second opportunity for selection before we plant trials this spring in the Dakotas.

Last season in Casselton, North Dakota, we had over 20,000 pre-yield rows and Nate and I selected almost 2,300 rows (about the top 11.5%) for further testing. These selections were then planted in Yuma. Over many years, we have discovered a few tricks to winter nurseries in Yuma. We plant in wide spaced rows (21 inches) aligned in a north/south direction. Here’s the reasoning behind that design: the wide row spacing allows sunshine to beat down on the white Arizona sand and then reflect back on the plants, thus shortening the growing cycle and the plant height.

I spent four days working on my tan and walking through those 10 acres of plots, selecting and tagging the best individual lines to retest in the Dakotas and Canada this coming spring. My selections were based on simple visual observation. I like attractive wheats, meaning that they are not too tall, won’t lodge, are a reasonable maturity, and will yield well. This is where the old breeder saying comes from: retest the best and throw away the rest!

Now that I have made my selections, we will hopefully go back around the 7th of April to harvest the crop. This will harvest enough seed for two years’ worth of testing. Then the rush is on to clean, prepare, and packet the seed for planting in North Dakota – after that frozen ground thaws!

As a side note: we see lots of different agriculture in the Yuma area. Our plots were bordered on two sides with celery, now long gone into many a Bloody Mary. The other two sides are bordered by date palms. While I was there, workers were in a fork truck cutting the male infloresences from the date palms. Later, they will go back and hand pollenate the female plants so that all the palms will be ready for harvest at the same time. Yes, it’s a lot like breeding wheat! Except wheat has both male and female parts in one flower and we do microsurgery to emasculate (remove the anthers with tweezers). Palms have separate male and female trees and the workers emasculate with machetes!!!

Until next time –
Blake