Crop Breeding Overview
We have several breeding objectives in the sunflower improvement program. One goal is to select for an oilseed sunflower type that is adapted to the growing region in the lower Midwestern U.S. Currently, most sunflower breeding efforts target adaptation to the upper Midwest or Plains regions of the U.S., with selected material having shorter maturities and resistance to local diseases and insects. If we select for later maturing, locally adapted sunflower varieties, we can potentially identify higher yielding material with better adaptation to our growing region. A second objective is to breed for a sunflower variety specifically suited to bird seed. There is evidence that sunflower is the preferred type of seed for many species of birds, and our goal is to improve seed characters to expand bird feeding potential of this crop. Finally, we have a very small program dedicated to confection type sunflowers with the primary goal of increasing seed size.
Grain amaranth breeding objectives include increased yield, decreased height, increased harvest index, and general improvement in agronomic characters. Historically, domestication and improvement of crop species has involved selection for increased harvest index, and studies have shown that yield increases from breeding are often attributable to increases in harvest index (partitioning more of the plant biomass into grain). Grain amaranth currently has a relatively low harvest index compared to other modern crop species. To increase harvest index (and yield) we are selecting for reduced plant height and larger grain heads while maintaining agronomic traits such as standability, harvestability and pest resistance.
We have a very limited improvement program for nyjerseed (Guizotia abyssinica) involving mass selection for traits such as yield, standability, flower synchronization, and maturity.
We are constantly evaluating other crops for potential improvements through breeding and selection.