Spring wheat breeder Karl Glover and doctoral students Golam Rasul and Rosa Guerrero-Chavez harvest wheat using a scythe so they can keep each line separate.
Spring wheat breeder Karl Glover and doctoral students Golam Rasul and Rosa Guerrero-Chavez harvest wheat using a scythe so they can keep each line separate.

Farmers count on South Dakota State University plant breeders to develop new varieties that give crops greater yield potential and make them more resistant to diseases. The university fulfills this commitment through a licensing agreement with the South Dakota Crop Improvement Association.

This agreement updates a century of SDSU service to the state's farmers by providing them high quality crop varieties, according to Daniel Scholl, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. "This is how our intellectual plant-based properties get into growers' hands in South Dakota and elsewhere in the region."

SDCIA was formed in 1925 when the South Dakota Corn Growers and Breeders Association, the South Dakota Grain Growers Association and the South Dakota Experiment Association merged. It is headquartered in the university's plant science department.

"The agreement simply puts in writing what we've been doing for nearly 100 years," said Neal Foster, manager of the Seed Certification Division. "We're a service for growers. We make sure what they are purchasing is what they want."

The agreement delineates "how to handle the transfer of plant genetics, and by doing so, makes it a predictable, smooth process," Scholl added.

Approving new varieties
When a variety is ready for release, the breeder sends supporting information regarding the new variety to the university variety release committee. The committee is comprised of faculty experts, the managers of the Foundation Seed Stock Division, the South Dakota Seed Certification Division and the Seed Testing Laboratory, as well as SDSU plant breeders for other crops.

The breeder must show what makes the variety new and prove its suitability for specific crop adaptation areas in South Dakota. For germplasm, its unique characteristics are of prime importance. Once the committee deems the variety ready for release, Scholl evaluates the recommendation and authorizes release and commercialization

Producing certified seed
The SDCIA then becomes the curator for the new variety, according Foster.

"Certified seed is a limited generation production system," he explained. Each successive class—foundation seed, registered seed and, finally, certified seed—is field inspected and tested and must meet increasingly stringent requirements.

SDCIA oversees the production of successive generations and thus greater quantities until the seed reaches its third class level, or the certified level. After it has passed the final inspection level, the end product can be sold to farmers as certified seed.

"It has to meet minimum requirements before we put our label on it," Foster added.

The association collects royalties only when the SDCIA seed producer sells certified seed, which provides a buffer against crop failure, he explained, noting inspection fees are kept to a minimum.

"If we have a good year and lots of sales, that's where we see the return," Foster pointed out. The university and SDCIA share the royalties, but a large portion of the proceeds support the breeding programs and seed development process.

In addition to cereal grains, SDCIA members propagate seeds for field peas, lentils, chickpeas and cover crops, such as turnips and radishes.