Hybrid seed production is the process of crossing two pure lines of parent plants, using controlled pollination, for a desired result called a hybrid seed or plant. These hybrid seeds are known by the terms “F1” or “F1 hybrids.” In the seed industry, terms such as “F1” or “hybrid” are strictly defined when spelled out in seed catalogs, as opposed to plants crossed naturally in the wild. Most hybrids are first generation or F1 variety hybrids.
Hybrid seed production brings out the best qualities of parent plants. Desired qualities in parent plants include good vigor, early maturity and more uniformity. According to AVRDC, the World Vegetable Center website, many hybrid plants are more disease resistant, produce more yields and have a higher fruit quality.
Hand pollination is one way to produce hybrid seeds. This is done using inbred parental lines that are grown in adjacent rows. Another method is to plant two parental lines inside a cage that’s insect-proof.
A cheaper technique involves using an isolation block to plant the two parental inbreds, notes Cucurbic Breeding Agriculture Science. Staminate flowers must be daily removed from plants in seed parent rows to prevent any self-pollination or sib-pollination.
Some people believe that producing hybrids is simply crossing two different plants, such as a white-flowered plant with a red-flowered plant to produce a pink-flowered offspring, notes the University of Illinois. However, this is too simplistic because of the laws of genetics. In most cases, hybridized plant's parent plants need to be chosen carefully for extremely specific characteristics.
Hybrid seed production can involve considerable time and expensive. It may take years for plant breeders to discover the correct combination of desirable characteristics they want for a plant.
Seed from hybrid vegetables shouldn't be saved because hybrid seed won’t produce the same plant the next generation since most varieties cannot sustain themselves, warns the University of Illinois. Often hybrid offspring display an unpredictable combination of traits from grandparent plants rather than being similar to the parents.
The first hybrid seed to be produced was maize in the 1920s, according to the Institute of Science in Society. Hybrid maize production came about by the encouragement of influential Americans such as Henry A. Wallace, who later served as a U.S. Vice President under President Franklin Roosevelt from 1941 through 1945. In 1935, in the Corn Belt there was a greater demand for hybrid seed as the industry grew quickly, notes the United States Department of Agriculture website. Hybrid seed production then expanded to flowers and vegetables. In recent years, rice and a few forage crops have been produced from hybrid seeds.