We all know that plant breeding is a numbers game. Twenty years ago, a plant breeder would make as many crosses as possible, from hundreds to even thousands. As more crosses were made, so did the odds for success. While that notion still holds true, breeders are limited or empowered by their ability to work with these numbers, or data points.
Too often, I see plant breeders still working in Excel or custom built programs that are outdated, hard to manipulate, limiting and inefficient. For instance, consider a breeder in the field recording data. Think about how many times he or she may hit the Enter or Tab key to move data columns. Let’s say you have 100 plants with 10 measurable characteristics, such as plant height and width, number of leaves, leaf angle, leaf rolling and so on. It could easily be a 1,000 times a day when a breeder is phenotyping plants in a nursery or plot. That 1,000 times a day equates to 16 minutes a day, or eight hours per month or 2.5 work weeks throughout the course of a year — just spent on hitting “Enter.”
What if the cursor automatically moved from field to field during the data entry process? Your breeder just gained an additional 2.5 weeks of their time back. It’s the little things that add up.
As a former breeder, I knew there was a need for software specifically designed for the task at hand, no matter the type of crop. So it seemed natural to create a plant breeding software company that could adapt to the specific needs of the industry, be it breeders working for small- and medium-sized independent companies, multinationals, universities and governmental organizations.
Today’s software is made for the breeder and allows them to take photos that coincide with observations, record measurements in the field and auto upload to a server, and access data from other internal breeding stations around the world as needed.
If you or your breeders are still using pen and paper, Excel or an older custom-built program, I encourage you to explore the plant breeding software that’s available today. If you’re worried about learning a new program, there are plenty of resources to help. While different companies offer different programs and levels of services, there are onboarding programs, site visits and further customizations available. Remember: Data is just data unless you can use it and extract information; then it has meaning.
(First Published on SeedWorld.com | June 2016)
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Dr Dieter Mulitze is Founder and CEO of Agronomix Software – leading software for plant breeders and variety testers.