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CropTalk: Breeding With the Big Boys

December 2021

Published on Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Quietly, behind the scenes of agriculture, there has been both a revolution and an evolution in the world of breeding. Beck’s has built a program to be a competitor in the race for a successful future for farmers.



At Beck’s, our breeding team has a complete toolbox that allows us to compete in today’s arena. We have dedicated testing teams that can generate high-quality field data across the U.S. Corn Belt. This field data is a vital component to the success of any breeding program. The data is used to build the predictive models that allow us to not only make decisions for today but propel us into the future with solid performance prediction capabilities.

The molecular marker lab at Beck’s is another vital player in this breeding team. It provides us with the genotypic data (DNA fingerprint) of the genetic materials used in breeding. This contribution has allowed us to begin to understand the higher-level interactions of a hybrid’s genome at the DNA level when it is put into the field.

The last piece to this team is a collaborative relationship with a world leader in the statistical application of machine learning. This collaboration with Computomics has allowed the breeders at Beck’s to virtually predict hybrid combinations at the genomic level and predict their performance in the field environment with a very high degree of accuracy. The application of these new statistical tools has allowed our breeders to ask questions that were outside previous methodologies but vitally important to understanding the genetics behind the performance of a hybrid in the field.




The application of modern breeding tools and approaches has changed our breeding perspective from “a search for success” to “a planned product improvement” mindset that is optimized by machine learning. We are working with our statisticians in a more disciplined and focused manner, “building forward” with our knowledge. The ability to generate millions of virtual hybrids and predict their performance in the field with accuracy allows machine learning to identify and understand the genetic interactions of a hybrid at the chromosomal level. What this means is a more consistent and reliable rate of genetic gain into the future.

We are working very closely with our product ream to target phenotypic and performance characteristics that allow us to build them into hybrid combinations needed by our customers. We are striving to deliver the next generation of hybrids that contribute to a farmer’s success.

Most of our breeding now centers around the development, advancement, and controlled expansion of our genetic umbrella platforms. We are building a genetic family history of field performance with enough understanding and accuracy to predict the future generation’s performance. We are building into our breeding a consistency and confidence that is to be realized in future products. The genotype of each new inbred line is now the starting point, and the statistical model is what puts the inbred line into motion in the breeding pipeline.

Today’s successful farmer is more aware than ever of the challenges the environment imposes on him/her and how precision farming can help combat these challenges. As breeders, we are working together to respond to these environmental challenges. We have initiated a breeding project between breeding programs (Project: “Sorting Hat”) to identify elite genetics that can respond positively to environmental challenges. We are leveraging data between breeding programs to identify the key environmental factors that become challenges by measuring environmental parameters. We are using machine learning statistical methods to understand genetic responses to these environmental factors. The short-term goal is to identify hybrid combinations that can be directed to the specific environments (breeding program) that allow the greatest potential for commercial success in the farmer’s field. The midterm goals are to identify and accurately measure environmental factors that define an environment and breed the complementing genetic traits that respond positively to those factors. We hope to establish the knowledge of where a product will work with the greatest probability of success for the farmer. This would also be breeding to complement the utility of FARMserver® as an on-farm tool.

Just as the company continues to grow and expand its marketing borders, Beck’s breeding team has worked to push boundaries and stay at the cutting edge of scientific breeding. We use a revolutionary technology and approaches to accelerate the development and improvement of the products offered to the farmer. Today’s breeder is building tomorrow’s performance.

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Author: G. Keith Rufener II, PhD

Categories: CropTalk, 2021


G. Keith Rufener II, PhD

G. Keith Rufener II, PhD

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