After a long day in the sun, testing one’s fortitude in the hope of making something meaningful I retire to rest so that tomorrow we might try again. At work we are making crosses. Nope, not religious icons. We are crossing different strains of soybean. Beginning the process of developing new and better varieties for the future. A tedious affair; soybean flowers are fairly small, easily destroyed, and not inclined to tell you if they’re happy with your intentions. To be fair, I don’t believe I know any humans who would be fine with someone else lining them up with various other mates with a view to obtain offspring with characteristics desired by the ‘other’.
How tedious you might ask. Sufficiently, I might answer. But not so much for me any longer. I’ve been at this for forty years. For someone who has never tried this it can be a serious test of patience. And so for me the challenge isn’t so much making the cross as teaching, inspiring, cajoling, and helping another to take on the task; to not dismay, quit, or lose heart. It can be done. Insects buzzing in your ear? Concentrate on the flower. Fragile sepals and petals not cooperating? Try to relax and be still. You will figure this out.
Success is a pregnant soybean pod. It will be many days yet before any pregnancy evaluation is possible. Until then you just keep making crosses and trusting that your efforts will be rewarded. There are hundreds of thousands of new and different soybean lines in the nursery giving testament to the efforts made in previous summers. These will be evaluated in turn and a fortunate few will advance to make the varieties of tomorrow… also in turn these selections will come back into a future crossing block for mating with still other varieties as the process continues. The circle of life (cue Lion King music).
If asked for a motto for a plant breeder I would offer this: I never get mad, and seldom get angry. But every now and then I get a little cross.