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Myth Busters - Corn Breeding & Inbred Development

Published on Monday, February 29, 2016

When a farmer buys a corn hybrid from Beck’s and can look down the row to see that the ear heights and plant heights are just perfectly uniform – that’s the result of two genetically pure inbred plants.

Hi, I am Dr. Keith Rufener, a corn breeder at Beck’s. I’d like to welcome you back to our Beck’s Research: Myth Busters blog series. Last week, our director of research, Dr. Kevin Cavanaugh busted the myth that Beck’s has the same hybrids as other seed companies.

In his blog, Kevin mentioned that Beck’s is able to source genetics from more genetic suppliers than any other company in the U.S. This unique advantage allows us to offer our customers the most diverse group of hybrids in the industry. But recently we have found that, as a result of these unique relationships, a myth has developed that we don’t develop our own proprietary inbreds.

Today, I would like to bust this myth by diving deeper into our proprietary corn breeding program at Beck’s.


MYTH: “Beck’s does not produce their own proprietary inbreds.”

BUSTED: Beck’s breeding program has been developing proprietary inbreds for many years. There are literally hundreds of inbred lines in the Beck’s germplasm bank.

So what exactly are corn inbreds? They are “genetically pure” lines of identical or nearly identical individuals developed by several generations of self-pollination, or through the dihaploid process. Corn inbred lines are used as parents of corn hybrids.

In the past several years, the Beck family has invested heavily in the Beck’s breeding program to meet the demand of a growing and expanding business. We have gone from a single breeding program at our Beck’s headquarters in Atlanta, IN to five breeding programs with testing coverage across all nine states in Beck’s marketing area. This includes our two newest corn breeders in Marshalltown, IA. Each of the five breeding programs is responsible for developing proprietary genetics in the form of both Beck’s inbreds and hybrids.

To understand the process of developing an elite inbred that can produce a commercial Beck’s hybrid, it is very similar to an event that is happening in Indianapolis right now. The NFL is holding its pre-draft combine, where the top athletes from Universities across the country (that have performed at the highest levels for multiple years) are brought together to see if they could make it to the next level (professional football in the NFL).

Developing an elite, proprietary inbred that is capable of performing at a commercial hybrid level parallels this process. After several years of thorough testing, the lines that have consistently performed in hybrid combinations at the very highest levels are brought together to be evaluated as elite inbred lines. This is the final hurdle before the hybrids are selected to make it into Beck’s commercial line-up. 


This process is called DHS (Distinct, Homozygous, Stable) and is a very rigorous process that measures the potential of the inbred for the future. The inbred is evaluated to be sure that it is unique (distinct) in its genetics and would bring characteristics to a commercial hybrid line-up that sets it apart from other elite lines. The line is also assessed to confirm that the breeder’s discipline and skills in the breeding process have resulted in an inbred line that is genetically pure (homozygous) and it has the maximum potential to perform in a commercial hybrid environment. Finally, the elite inbred line must have remained stable over several years in both its hybrid performance and genetic purity to insure that its future performance will remain the same. The one big difference between the Beck’s proprietary inbred line development and the NFL combine is that once our inbreds make it to the next level, every day is game day in the field, not just Sundays.


I hope this has helped you learn more about corn inbreds and bust the myth about our proprietary corn breeding program at Beck’s. Stay tuned until next week to hear from Beck's lab manager, Jenni Taller and Asha Palta, lab manager and senior research scientist, as they discuss the other tools we utilize to bring our new hybrids to the marketplace.

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Keith Rufener

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