plant phys use in breeding

S. A. Modena samodena at
Sun Sep 20 18:59:15 EST 1992

In article <1992Sep20.140451 at IASTATE.EDU> rjsalvad at IASTATE.EDU (Ricardo J Salvador) writes:
>In article <1992Sep11.150747.26922 at>,
>toby at (Toby Bradshaw) writes:
>> >[I]t seems that a good argument
>> >can be made that the hybrid seed corn industry was created and exists
>> >largely for the benefit of the seed corn industry, and NOT because it
>> >has been better for farmers OR for society at large.
>> Maybe it seems that way to you.  Nobody is holding a gun to the
>> farmer's head and forcing him/her to fork over the $1E9 for
>> hybrid seed.
>To discuss this adequately, the conditions of the 1930s must be considered
>differently from those of the present.  Don Duvick once told me that his
>father adopted corn hybrids (Duvick was raised on what he terms a
>"subsistence farm" in Illinois) because the first year he tried a few
>acres planted with hybrid seed there was a serious drought in the corn
>belt.  The OP corn wilted and failed while the hybrid seed produced a
>crop. .......[ the rest is very interesting in it's views ].......

I wish I were more knowledgable about Pioneer Hibred, but let me go with
a couple of tidbits I know.

I see you quoting Don Duvick, long time Director of Research--now retired
and President of ASA, from a curious view.  Here we have a subsistence
farmer's son rising to become a respected Pioneer executive (via the
geneticist route).  And, let's not forget Bill Brown, lover of the
SouthWest Indian corns, acting as CEO of Pioneer (was he a farm raised
boy?, also --I don't know).  But Brown certainly never underestimated
the value of preserving maize germplasm.  Pretty sure Duvick thought along
those lines.

Take all that Ricardo has said and mix it with the fact that Don Duvick
and Bill Brown were important drivers of Pioneer Hibred.  Did these two men
act totally unconsciously of the impact on "society?"  Personally, I
doubt it.  The question is: which "society" did they have in mind (i.e.
what was their mental construct?)  Were there two Pioneers?  One
worrying after germplasm's imminent destruction and the other swinging
a wrecking ball in the heart of America's farmland?

Ernie Sears was born in Oregan (1905?) and received his 1-12 education in a
single one room school house.  He went to college on scholarship along with
a hometown classmate.  He went to Harvard for a PhD on scholarship, but the
classmate was not so "fortunate" and ended up being a salesman for Pioneer.
Ernie went on to be a world class wheat cytogeneticist at Missouri (and
became close friends with Barbara McClintock, world class maize cytogeneticist).
Ernie's classmate, during some of Pioneer's harder days, accepted company
stock in place of salary from time to time.  When Ernie's classmate
retired, the Pioneer stock paid back the faith of those earlier, leaner

At least some of the people of Pioneer Hibred were cognizant of the
crisis that lead to the widespread switch over to double- and then, single-
cross maize hybrids.  They were intimately familiar with the plant
biology and genetics of hybrids versus populations in the context of
"continuing improvement of performance."

Yet, these people did not chose to improve populations?  Based on my
limited knowledge of maize genetics, I think Ricardo *under*states the
magnitude of the effort to move *many* populations to the level of
performance that continues to be achieved with single cross hybrids.

Now of course, Pioneer must have improved populations, but not for the
financially suicidal purpose of releasing them as planting stock (Ricardo
lay that out adequately).  

I mention Pioneer because Ricardo mentions Pioneer, but there were and are
other seed companies, here and abroad.  Why did they not turn to
population improvement?  Why did they not invest millions for the
societal good?  

Well, then why hasn't the government of the UK or France or Mexico done it?
And swept the world markets?  (Let's pretend that the U.S. was always
too capitalistic to entertain that enterprise.)

Something is missing from Ricardo's discourse.  Something important.

Could it be that Pioneer, over the long haul, has delivered superior
products that in fact deliver value for dollar?

Could it be that other factors were and remain far more important in the
allocative process of wealth redistribution?  I think so, personally.

BTW, if a company develops and releases a broad base of populations for
field production...and goes bankrupt in the long will
it take before those superior populations drift to worthlessness,
genetically speaking?  What mechanism would prevent that?  In the case of
Pioneer's hybrids, it is their determined tenacity in the face of
stealers and competition from others in the free market place that keeps
their genetic and seed quality high.



|     In person:  Steve Modena     AB4EL                           |
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