Bayer’s strength in breeding seeds is that it’s both a global and local company. In soybeans, cotton, oilseeds, vegetables and rice, Bayer has a vast germplasm pool, a global team of breeding experts and an intensive research and development (R&D) program. But how do these global assets bring farmers local benefits? “The key question is where do we want to sell products,” says Dr. Christopher Tinius, Global Head of Soybean Breeding at Bayer. “To sell soybeans in the Mississippi Delta Region, for example, we need to have a breeding and testing program dedicated to that area so we can see how the varieties we’ve developed perform locally. While we have worked hard to develop a global breeding program with the full complement of support functions like trait introgression, pathology, and molecular breeding, the actual variety development has to be done at a local level.”
Factors such as climate, crop-dependent diseases, soil type and texture, irrigation or lack of it, and cultivation techniques are evaluated in local trials. “The microconditions in local environments are mostly unique,” Tinius says. “As a result, there are relatively few opportunities for switching genetic material between different geographies. We do move material between Brazil, Argentina and the US, for example, but even promising candidates from a given area often fail the localization test. Sometimes it works, but not very consistently.” Although local breeding trials are expensive, Bayer knows how important this investment is. “It’s quite simple, really. If a farmer buys our soybean variety and that seed doesn’t perform well, then we will not have a happy customer. At Bayer, we therefore sell varieties that have proven performance under local conditions.” If a variety from a different region where similar conditions exist looks like it has local potential, but it isn’t quite right, Bayer’s breeding specialists will add localized germplasm to create a custom fit. That’s where Bayer’s global-to-local philosophy brings technical and business benefits.
All these regional differences have to be taken into consideration when locating our trials and evaluating the data. That’s because our products perform differently in each region and soil type, and we are looking for specific regional adaptation.
Local factors of influence
Just how localized Bayer’s breeding trials are is illustrated by Bayer’s research in the Mississippi Delta, located in the Midsouth of the United States. Bayer conducts breeding trials in both the northern and southern regions of the Delta. This is because each region is distinct, with its own broad categories of soil types (clays and loams). And while rainfall patterns are similar throughout the Delta, the southern region is slightly hotter. “We do trials in all areas of each region across all soil types,” Tinius explains. “All these regional differences have to be taken into consideration when locating our trials and evaluating the data. That’s because our products perform differently in each region and soil type, and we are looking for specific regional adaptation.” The Mississippi Delta isn’t the only US region where Bayer examines local environments. In North and South Carolina, for example, Bayer conducts breeding trials in three different regions: the Tidewater, the Coastal Plains and the Piedmont. Likewise across the Midwest.
The Secret of High-Quality Seeds
In fact, Bayer is investing heavily in local breeding trials at locations in both North and South America. It’s this attention to local detail that is key to breeding high quality varieties that perform well in specific local environments.