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Myth Busters - What Really Goes on Inside Those Greenhouses?

Published on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When you look at a bag of Beck’s traited seed corn, there are really two packages – a genetic package and a trait package. The genetic package is the engine to the race car, the key to the performance of a corn plant. The trait package protects the corn plant from pests or gives farmers the ability to spray a certain herbicide.

Hi, I am Kevin Colbert, greenhouse manager at Beck’s. Welcome back to our Beck’s Research: Myth Busters blog series. Last week, Jenni Taller and Asha Palta discussed two of the tools they use to speed up the process of creating new products: Embryo Rescue and the Molecular Marker Lab. Both tools play a big part in developing the genetic and trait packages of a product.

We are able to quickly integrate trait packages into corn inbreds through the use of greenhouses. Today, I would like to bust a myth related to the greenhouses at our office and what they are really used for.



MYTH: “The breeding staff at Beck’s just plants plots. The greenhouses at their office are just for show.”

BUSTED: The greenhouses at Beck’s are a tremendous asset to the research staff and our customers. We built the first two greenhouses in 2003. With our continued growth, we quickly realized that those weren’t large enough to contain what we needed to do. We added two more greenhouses in 2006, an additional two in 2007, and completed construction on two more last year, bringing our current total to eight.

Our main focus in the greenhouses is trait introgression (sometimes called trait conversion). We do not develop traits at Beck’s, but we are very fortunate to have the ability to work with many different trait providers. This gives us the ability to offer multiple trait combinations, allowing the farmer to decide which protection is needed on their farm.

When our breeding staff and product-testing department create new, conventional inbred lines, they don’t initially have the added trait protection from insects or herbicide tolerance that are included in our commercial product lineup. This allows the corn breeders to test the base genetic package of a hybrid to see how it performs in different regions. After they receive the trial data from those inbreds, the top performers come into the greenhouse to go through the trait introgression process.

This is where my greenhouse research team comes in. It is our job to get the trait conversions finished and back to the breeders for further testing. Our goal is to return the same elite inbred line, only now with the added traits necessary for insect protection and herbicide tolerance. 

To accomplish trait conversion, we start by selecting a donor plant. This is exactly what it sounds like – a plant that will donate the trait into our pure inbred line. Once we’ve made the first initial cross, the seed we harvest is positive for the trait but half of the genetics are from the donor. Therefore, we have to do a series of additional back crosses with the original inbred to achieve the genetic purity we started with.

I explain more about our greenhouses and the trait conversion process in this video from our Beck’s Research Series.


When I started at Beck’s 10 years ago, the timeline of trait introgression was a two to three-year process from start to finish. By installing the Molecular Marker Lab and utilizing Embryo Rescue, we’ve been able to shorten the timeframe it takes to grow a crop in the greenhouse, and quickly select the plants that most closely match the genetics of the original inbred. Today, we can get an inbred line into the greenhouse, converted to the trait package we want, and back in the breeders’ hands in about 12 months.


I hope this has helped explain more about trait introgression and our greenhouses at Beck’s. Our research department is committed to delivering high-performing products with the choices that farmers demand. We will continue to utilize all the resources we have to help our customers succeed!

Stay tuned until next week to hear about our regional product selection program from Beck’s product lead, Doug Clouser.

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Kevin Colbert

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