Breeding and plant selection for the improvement of sunflower output traits has been practiced since the earliest days of domestic production.
However, it is only in the last 50 years that sunflower breeding has been refined and streamlined. The process of developing new crop varieties used to take up to 25 years but with advanced plant breeding, this has shortened considerably to 7-10 years.
Nuseed’s sunflower parent seed breeding program is located in Breckenridge, Minnesota, US. It includes a 50-acre nursery situated 30 minutes away in Rothsay, Minnesota. It is here that Nuseed’s R&D team works tirelessly to produce quality parent seed lines for the seed production process.
Quality parent seeds are created by inbreeding parent seed lines, sometimes up to seven or eight generations, to create a parent seed that is uniform and perfect. Once the team has two parent seeds lines that both display ideal genetic characteristics, the parents are cross-bred to produce a hybrid seed.
Theoretically, if the parent seed lines are genetically pure, they should produce a stable hybrid year after year. However, as with any scientific process, this theory must be tested, so the sunflower hybrid is planted in the nursery in Rothsay, with thousands of other hybrids to ensure its phenotype visually.
Nuseed uses marker-assisted selection (MAS) to select plant traits. Once the plant has reached the vegetative stage, the R&D team perform molecular checks via tissue samples to ensure it is displaying the ideal characteristics for a parent line. Any rogue plants are then removed.
At the reproductive stage the team places a mesh bag over the head of each sunflower to maintain genetic purity through isolation. The bag allows the sunflower to get air, sunshine and moisture but prevents cross-pollination and insect damage. The sample stake is then removed from the ground and stapled to the bag to ensure the genetic identity of the plant.
Once the sunflower plant reaches full maturity, it is harvested at the base, complete with the bag and tag. The sunflower plant is then catalogued into a computer program known as Prism, which tracks individual plant analytics.
The Nuseed advancement team then meet to review, analyze and discuss the sunflower hybrid data. They look at the pipeline and market data, review Nuseed’s customer profiles and then make a decision as to which hybrid seeds seem the most promising for Nuseed’s portfolio. After that, the parent lines of the hybrid are passed along to Nuseed’s seed production team in Sacramento, California, for field increases. The parent seed then goes into local field trials in North America, South America, and European regions for proof of local performance prior to commercial production.