Nursery Thoughts

Nursery Thoughts, By: Cullen Johnson

A few days ago, I completed the second major step of my work in the nursery, pollinations. The first big hurtle was planting, which was severely delayed because of the overabundance of precipitation we acquired early this spring. Because of this, the nursery was later than usual for pollinations to begin. In a normal year, I should have been finished with pollinations by the end of the third week of July; nevertheless, the work got done and with tremendous success.

After spending nearly three weeks in the heat of July and August trudging through a corn field, I feel a sense of satisfaction and a job well done when taking down the final tassel bag. Seven days a week starting at 7:30 am, I will be in the nursery shoot bagging. Once the pollen begins to fly around 9:30 am, I will take down tassel bags and put up new ones for the next day. I’m doing that with nearly every corn plant in the field. It’s a monotonous cycle of putting on bags and taking them off, but it’s also necessary. My main goal is maintaining the purity of the pollinations made. At the end of the season when I harvest that ear under that pollination bag, I must be confident that the seed on the ear is what the bag says it is. Without sustaining that purity, my job would be fruitless.

Now, it is time to gear up for harvest at our newest nursery location, in Anna, IL. This may seem like a great time for me to get some well needed down time, but the life of corn breeder never slows down. Ordering harvest supplies, hoeing weeds, and recording pollinations are just a few of my duties over the next few weeks. I’m also in the process of constructing a small dryer out of lumber and some hillbilly ingenuity to dry the ears of corn that I will harvest in a few weeks.

Looking forward, I see this new nursery in Southern Illinois, and our inbred development program expanding tremendously and rapidly. From the 216 row nursery, I have 1,600 unique pollinations to harvest in Anna alone. Each row represents an inbred line that is genotypically and phenotypically different than the other. Within theses 1,600 pollinations, there are selfs, developmental crosses, and test crosses. Each must be treated differently post-harvest. Selfs will be utilized for seed stock of those inbred lines for next year. Developmental crosses will either be saved for next year’s summer nursery as an S0 population or taken to winter nursery for quick turnover to the S1 population. Test crosses will be placed in a breeder’s yield trial in order for us to determine what unique characteristics of the inbred will bring to the hybrid. Every pollination will be planted in one row next year. For perspective, our 216 row nursery was right under 0.5 acres. For 1,600 rows, that nursery will be just shy of 2 acres. In two years if this same growth continues, this nursery just might be around 8 acres.

Overall, the last few weeks have been very rewarding. One Bible verse I find myself remembering through all this work is 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”