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High Mowing Organic Seeds
   

Behind the Scenes of the High Mowing Organic Seeds' Vegetable Breeding Work - Interviews with the people who make it happen. Tom Stearns, President & Founder


Heather JerrettBehind the scenes of our plant breeding are the two people who direct this work, build relationships with public plant breeders, take detailed notes, and organize taste tests to ultimately bring forth these exciting new varieties.  Both Jodi Lew-Smith and Heather Jerrett have worked at High Mowing since 2003 and are a large reason for the success of our company and for the high quality varieties that we offer.  Last month you had a chance to read about our breeding program through my interview with Jodi Lew-Smith.  This month I interviewed
Heather Jerrett, High Mowing Organic Seeds' Trials Manager
about her role trialing and developing the unique varieties we offer.


Briefly describe the HMS trialing program.

"Our trialing program is used to identify new varieties, control quality of existing varieties, as an educational tool for our sales and marketing staff, and as a showcase for our customers."

What role does Trials play in the breeding program, either early on in the breeding process, throughout the process, at the end or in an ongoing way?

"Trials helps identify interesting new varieties that catch the attention of Jodi in the breeding program.  Jodi walks through the trials every week and often notices varieties that are an interest to her current or potential future breeding projects.

Also, in the Trials, we compare our HMS breeding lines to the market standards of each crop type and to each other.  Our new sweet corn breeding program has given us test crosses in 2010 for evaluating for many traits including tip fill, tip cover, husk cover, kernel size and number of rows and plant height and yield, tassel timing, maturity and, of course, flavor.  These lines were all compared to each other and to other market standards from multiple plantings and throughout the season. 

The earlier that Trials is able to check out our new breeding lines, the sooner we get used to the projects and can see what attributes that we are looking for.   The more familiar Trials is with the breeding projects the better we are able to identify varieties or traits that Jodi might be looking for."

Describe a recent taste test that you have done.  How does it work and what do you do with the info?

"A few weeks ago we did a butternut taste test with 17 different varieties.  These varieties included the HMS breeding lines, the current varieties that we carry, other market standards, and a few new varieties available from other seed companies that we work with.  The breeding lines were all grown in the breeding plot and the others were grown in the Trials.  All varieties were cubed in same size, using the same part of each squash because different sections of the squash (i.e. neck or seed cavity) have different flavor.  They were then steamed in the oven in individual tin foil pouches for 20 minutes.  Then they were all given a number so that people didnít know which ones were ours versus a competitor.  Then they were evaluated on flavor, sweetness and texture by HMS staff. 

Everything is rated on a 1-5 scale and everyone is encouraged to use the full scale in order to get a valuable spread of the numbers.  5 is the best and 1 is the worst.  All the tasters need to get their palette used to what they are tasting before they get started.  Many people taste each variety a few times to compare with the first time they tried it and alter their rating.  After the taste test, I collect the data sheets, enter everything into Excel, average the scores for each variety and each category, and sort to see which variety is on top.  The info gets emailed out to all the staff and it is used especially by the trials, sales and breeding staff.  The information is used for decisions regarding which new varieties to add, variety descriptions, directions to go with the breeding and more.  Taste is just one part of variety selection for us, but it is very important.

All of this info is also used as an educational tool for our staff.  All the names are revealed at the end and sometimes I am surprised by a variety that tasted differently than I would have expected.  A lot of it has to do with the timing of harvest and length of storage and storage conditions.  Because of that we like to do replicated trials and multi-year trials.  The flavor and nutritional potential of a variety is 60% from the genetics and 40% from the environment (soil type, rainfall, temp. etc).  So evaluating under these different conditions helps us to determine the varieties with the best genetics or those that are widely adapted to different conditions. 17 people all tasted 17 varieties Ė I create spreadsheets that are compiled for sweetness and texture of the squash." 

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