Wood density and wood quality are not identical: after the wood quality debacle of the 1990s, the reaction of New Zealand companies has been mostly to extend rotation, aiming to increase the proportion of outerwood in the final crop. But breeders could so improve the trees as to permit growers to follow more tolerable shorter rotations.
Will this be a good investment? This is a common question asked by buyers of ’superior’ genetic material. Why the quotation marks? Because the statement brings to mind the question ‘Superior for what?’ Before dealing with the initial question, we have to recognise a few things about tree improvement that have an effect on the answer.
A few weeks ago I was asked ’so what do you do?’ I could go on and on, explaining the intricacies of quantitative genetics, the problems to convince breeders to spend some time defining their objectives, etc. However, I was reminded of Guy Kawasaki’s writings on making meaning and the importance of a good mantra.
Different breeders value different things or, better put, they emphasise different values when developing breeding strategies. One of the reasons why many breeding programs struggle to achieve results is that they face an extremely complex list of activities, which is almost impossible to achieve.
When doing the post-mortem of failed breeding programs there are certain causes that appear very often:
- The program was not aligned with corporate needs (read lack of breeding strategy),
- Selections were not superior (poor genetic evaluation system), and
- There was no output from the breeding program (lack of deployment).
One of the eternal problems with applied research is how to rank competing projects. In a “previous article”, I described breeding objectives and their importance. Unfortunately, breeding objectives is a misnomer, which implies that those objectives are meant only for breeding. Although they have been formalised by breeders, these objectives reflect the effect of ‘a unit change of a trait on profit, relative to other traits’. There is no mention to how that change is achieved.
I am often contacted by breeders who are starting to work on quantitative genetic evaluation. A typical question they ask is ‘What software do you recommend for analysing progeny trials?’ I could start explaining all the elements that you should consider for choosing this type of software and then leave the decision to you; I won’t, because I am convinced that ASReml is your best bet given that:
I have seen many cases where companies start a breeding program because ‘everybody else has got one’. Although that might be the case, there is no point on investing in developing superior genotypes if there is no clear idea of what is a better tree.