Improving the Field Crops You Grow by Selection

Crop production

Notes to broadcasters

Information on this topic was requested by DCFRN participants in Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guyana, India, Papua New Guinea and Philippines.


1. Please note that the steps in the item take place over a period of several growing seasons. It would therefore be best to repeat the information a number of times in your broadcasting schedule.

2. By carefully noting and fully understanding the message in this item, you will serve your farmers best by passing along the information to them at the right times during the growing seasons in your area.

3. As with all seeds that farmers plant, it is a very good idea for them to check the germination of their seed. In association with this item, you might consider re-using information in another DCFRN item:

“How Good is the Seed You’re Going to Plant?” — DCFRN


George Atkins

We at this radio station are part of a world-wide information network that gathers farming information from developing countries all over the world. It’s the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, sponsored by the Canadian international Development Agency, Massey-Ferguson and the University of Guelph.

Through this network we bring you information on ways to increase food supplies for your family, or to sell — ways that other farmers have used successfully.

Today, we’ll talk about a very good way to increase the yield of crops you grow. Here’s George Atkins.

For a few minutes let’s think of grain crops you may be growing from your own seed; crops like rice, wheat and millet that produce seeds on a panicle, spike or head; or like peas, beans and soybeans, with seeds produced in pods.

A lot of people are working hard to develop new and better kinds and varieties of all these crops; but often it’s not easy or it’s too expensive for you to get seeds of their improved varieties.

If you want to take the time and make the effort over a period of two or three growing seasons, you may be surprised at how much you can improve what you are already growing. — The way you can do it is by “selection”, — that is, picking out the best plants from your field, keeping seeds from those plants and finally growing future crops only from seeds from those better plants.

A former plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, Dr. Ronny Coffman, told me how you can do this. He said that, using this method, you yourself can improve the yield of the grains you grow.

Rice (paddy) produces its seeds in a panicle at the end of the central stem. Dr. Coffman used rice (paddy) as an example of a crop that can be improved by selection.

A farmer should look over the field of rice (paddy) and select a few hundred panicles, say about 200 or 300 panicles of the type that he sees are the most productive. These should be types with fairly large panicles; they should be fertile, — that is, with seed in every floret, and they should have a relatively short sturdy stem. Then (at harvest time) he should save those panicles. They can be tied in bundles for keeping themseparate — then allow them to dry.

So far, that seems to be simple enough — but let’s just review what Dr. coffman said.

Just before you start harvesting, go out into the field of rice (paddy) you are growing. Take a bag, basket, or some other container with you and pick out 200 or 300 panicles, the best ones you can find from plants with short strong stems. He suggests you tie them in bundles, take them to a safe place to dry and keep them separate from everything else you are growing.

So, how long should you keep them like that?

The farmer can just keep them without threshing until he’s ready to plant. — Then the seed of each panicle, or if it’s another crop, whatever the seed head might be, should be threshed separately. — And then just make some short rows about 1 metre (3 feet) in length and plant the seed from each panicle in a separate short row and cultivate it (through the growing season) in the ordinary manner. — And observe the crop as it grows.

This part of your crop improvement job will make some extra work for you at planting time, but while you are doing it keep thinking about how your crops will be better later on because you did this extra work.

Remember, Dr. Coffman says that you must set aside a special plot when you’re planting your rice (paddy) seeds. In a plot for growing seeds for sowing next season, you’ll be planting seeds from each of those panicles in their own separate rows. These can be a lot of short rows by themselves or in a number of long rows with small stakes in the rows at the places where the seeds of one panicle end and the seeds of another panicle begin.

Now start off by carefully threshing out all the seeds from one of those special panicles and plant your first short row with them. Then take the seeds from another panicle and plant them in another short row, — keep doing this with seeds from another and another panicle until you have planted the seeds from all the panicles you specially kept to plant in this special seed plot.

Now let’s just think for a moment about the plants that will grow from each of those separate panicles. As all seeds planted in one of these short rows are from the same panicle, the plants that grow from them will look the same; but as seeds planted in the next short row were from a different panicle, plants that grow from them may be a little different. So Dr. Coffman says keep watching for these differences in the crop on your special plot of short rows.

Then when it matures, have a look at each individual row and see if there are types that appear more productive. Pick out the good desirable rows, harvest the seed, mix it together. That’s the seed that will be used for the next crop.

Yield increases of up to 30 or 40% can be obtained in your next crop through that method.

Dr. H.H. Love, who was a famous professor at Cornell University, did exactly the procedure that I’ve described in the central plain of Thailand and he reported yield increases in the neighbourhood of 30%.

So it’s possible to do this on a small basis throughout the developing world and with many different crops that are grown for seed.

Thank you very much, Dr. Ronny Coffman, a former specialist in Plant Breeding here at the International Rice Research Institute at Los Banos in the Philippines.

Serving “Agriculture, the Basic Industry”, this is George Atkins.


Interviewee: Dr. Ronny Coffman (former Plant Breeder at IRRI, Philippines). Present address: 253 Emerson Hall, Cornell University, Ithica, New York, 14850, U.S.A.