Foundation Seed Working to Provide Farmers With High-Quality Seeds: Q&A with Dr. Richard Vierling

Close up photo of peanuts recently harvested.Sep 1, 2023

Texas A&M AgriLife Foundation Seed serves as a liaison between AgriLife Research plant breeding programs and seed companies interested in licensing plant varieties. Additionally, Foundation Seed produces and markets genetically pure seeds of new cultivars developed by AgriLife Research scientists. In September 2021, a new $1 million peanut sheller was unveiled. The new peanut sheller seed line incorporates the latest technology and will provide farmers with high-quality peanut seeds. Richard Vierling, Ph.D., the manager of Texas A&M AgriLife Foundation Seed is the director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center – Vernon. Vierling sat down with the National Peanut Board (NPB) to talk about Foundation Seed, as well as to talk about the impact of a direct F3 tornado hit on the facility May 4, 2022.

NPB: Could you explain what foundation seed is, versus breeder, registered and certified seed?

VIERLING: The objective of the seed certification system is to maintain genetic purity from the time the new variety leaves the plant breeder until it is purchased by the farmer. The seed certification system allows for four classes of seed: breeder, foundation, registered and certified. Breeder seed is the first generation and as the name suggests, it is developed by the plant breeder and is the purest seed. Seed harvested from fields planted with breeder seed make up the foundation seed class. Therefore, fields planted with foundation seed produce registered seed, and fields planted with registered seed produce certified seed, which is the seed purchased by farmers.

NPB: How does this new shelling plant fit into that?

VIERLING: The new peanut shelling plant will allow Texas A&M AgriLife to maintain control of the seed increase of our peanut varieties. In addition to maintaining purity, it also will help us control our seed production costs. What is most exciting is that the sheller will let AgriLife release new varieties sooner. Foundation Seed will be able to work with the breeders to advance multiple experimental lines for seed increase before their final selection. This will allow AgriLife to release new lines one to two years sooner.

NPB: Does the breeder recreate the breeder seed each year or just grow more?

VIERLING: Plant breeders maintain breeder seed. Whether the breeder produces breeder seed every year depends on how well the variety sells to farmers.

NPB: Why does seed purity matter?

VIERLING: Seed purity is an important aspect of farmer’s risk management. Seed purity ensures that your seed doesn’t devalue due to the presence of unwanted other crop seeds, weed seeds and inert matter that may contribute to insect infestation and disease. Genetic purity is equally important to the grower and essential to a successful crop. Good genetic purity prevents off-types, maturity differences and decreased performance.

NPB: How does Foundation Seed help with seed purity?

VIERLING: All four classes of seed, breeder, foundation, registered and certified, go through a rigorous testing program. The program starts with field inspections. AgriLife Foundation Seed submits field applications to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). TDA provides professional and unbiased field inspections of all seed production fields, and maintains records that meet state, federal and international seed law requirements. After the seed is cleaned, we send a sample to an approved seed testing laboratory.

NPB: You have now shelled the first crop of seed in the new plant. How did the first year go?

VIERLING: The peanut plant was dedicated in September 2021 and was used to shell and clean peanuts last year. The AgriLife Foundation Seed facility took a direct hit from an F3 tornado on May 4. There were two seed lots of new AgriLife varieties that were not shelled before the tornado damage, and this will delay their release. The peanut sheller did not suffer damage but all the equipment to get the peanuts to the sheller was destroyed. The rebuild of the facility is ongoing and will take more than a year, so we will not be shelling peanuts this year. The Texas peanut shellers have stepped up and will be assisting us with shelling peanuts.

NPB: What kind of damage did the facility sustain from the May 2022 tornado and what repairs will need to be made?

VIERLING: All the peanut wagons, driers and grain bins need to be replaced. Our equipment shed and seed cold storage building will have to be replaced, too. The warehouse is being repaired. The warehouse’s exterior walls and the roof over the small grains and peanut seed cleaners will be replaced. The roof over the seed storage warehouse will be repaired.

NPB: Did you lose any of the varieties you were developing and breeding due to the tornado damage? Has this been a major setback, or have you been able to move to another facility and work around it?

VIERLING: We did not lose any varieties but the release of two peanut varieties will be delayed for a year or two. We did lose a significant amount of breeding material and we do not yet know how that will affect variety development.

A damaged warehouse ceiling.

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