Where technology brought us 

John Deere Store
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Moline Welding Inc
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Barnett's House of Fireplaces
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DeGreve Oil Change
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DeGreve Oil Change
3400 State St
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Man improves on nature through hybrids

By Lydia Sage, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Lydia Sage / staff
Dan Drummet of Drummet's Hardware Hank, Prophetstown, displays some of the 1999 growing season garden seeds the store carries, including both the popular hybrid varieties most people raise, as well as `heirloom' varieties of old-fashioned produce used before hybridization became commonplace.

Before you sit down to lunch at that beautiful new walnut dining room table adorned with a bouquet of fresh flowers, take a moment to thank hybridization.

``Hybrid seeds touch nearly every part of our lives nowadays,'' said David Harrison, resource conservationist with the Whiteside County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Hybridization has been around for centuries -- both through natural methods and man's desire to improve on nature -- but did not become a refined science until the 20th century, Mr. Harrison said.

``It basically took off back in the early 1900s, with farmers taking ears of corn from the biggest plants and using the corn from those ears for the next year's crop,'' he said.

As technology evolved hybridization became the catalyst that allowed producers of literally every commodity to not only increase yields, but develop bigger, better, more insect- and disease-resistant varieties of everything from field corn to walnut trees bred for timber, Mr. Harrison said.

One research project reduced the time needed for one variety of walnut tree to mature from 40 to 25 years, he said.

Hybridization has helped make it possible for fewer growers to raise more fruits, grains and plants, Mr. Harrison said.

``That's really what it is all about,'' he said. ``The most significant thing we've seen is an amazing increase in yields.''

Farmers have watched their field corn yields jump from between 60 and 80 bushels per acre to a record 300 or so, as hybrid seed corn has been refined and produced commercially, according to veteran Morrison High School agriculture teacher Glenn Peterson.

Mr. Peterson also has a hands-on and vested interest in farming, farming ground in rural Morrison with his brother.

Hybridization involves combining the desired traits of one plant variety with another of the same species to produce the best traits of both, Mr. Peterson said.

``Like tomatoes,'' he explained. ``You might have one with an easy-to-slice skin, and another that is meaty and juicy. You would cross-breed them to get the best traits of both.''

Most all the garden seeds consumers buy are hybrids, he added.

The race to perfect more and better hybrid seeds doesn't stop at the dinner table, Mr. Peterson said.

``Some of the toughest competition there is is in raising hybrid flowers,'' he said. ``It's something that a lot of people don't even think about when they think about hybrid seeds. It's everything. It goes far beyond the farm field.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.