BANGKOK: Thailand’s Department of Agriculture (DoA), under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MAC), from 25-28 May held its “Open House”, an annual street-fair to showcase agricultural innovation and facilitate knowledge exchange among officers, researchers and the general public. (Photo Gallery below)
Held in the area around the DoA’s Bangkok office, near Kasetsart University in Bang Khen, the three-day fair was divided into three zones: 1) Projects under MAC policy, 2) Innovative Projects and 3)Research Projects and Beneficial Projects.
Among the highlights of interest to seed and breeding were a few projects that utilized automated environment-control techniques to improve horticulture productivity potential.
The “Temporary Immersion Bioreactor System” by the DoA’s Horticulture Research Institute, for example is a closed-loop growing chamber prototype that enabled researchers to germinate, grow and nurse sprouts in a glass enclosure by controlling specific vital inputs — nutrients, water, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Another interesting prototype demonstrated was a project by the Agriculture Engineering Research Institute, which implementated fourth-generation telecommunications (Internet-Of-Things) to remotely monitor, control and direct an automated greenhouse. Sensors gathered specific data on humidity, temperature and lighting and fed the information through a special router that could be viewed from any 4-G device through a special application.
The Open House also hosted several interesting, free seminars that covered everything from the identification of durian varieties to the benefits of energy-inducing herbs and coconut oil.
Asian Seed this morning (May 28) attended a seminar on horticulture crop breeding techniques.
Plant Sex 101
In an opening address, Deputy-Director General of the DoA, Mr Uthai Noppakoonwong, explained the importance of breeding and securing reliable germplasm sources. “We have a comprehensive Plant Variety Protection law in Thailand, which regulates the protection of new varieties … We also have thousands of community varieties that farmers can access and use,” Mr. Uthai said, referring to DoA’s Genebank, which conserves more than 32,000 crop varieties.
The ensuing seminar featured a panel of expert breeders: Dr. Sompol Somsri, a renowned authority in durian breeding and consultant to the DoA; Ms Saowanee Ketsakul, an Agricultural Research Officer at the Horticulture Research Institute’s Si Saket Station whose breeding expertise spans solanaceous, cucurbit and brassica crops; and Mr. Amnuai Adthalungrong, an Agricultural Research Officer, who is a renowned okra and orchid breeder. The session was moderated by DoA Officer, Mr. Wisaru San-ma-ae.
Panelists echoed one another in relaying all the important factors to consider in horticulture crop breeding.
Though breeding for most types of crops utilizes the same sexing or pollination principles, each crop is unique in physiology and thus has unique respective requirements and techniques. The female organs of durian flowers, for example, tend to bloom in the late afternoon/early evening, and it is during this time when it would be most ideal to pollinate, explained Dr. Sompol
On the other hand, many vegetable crops, whose flowers tend to bloom in the morning sun, would be more receptive to male pollen early in the day. Observing and understanding each plant’s natural behavior is thus an important prerequisite in breeding.
Another key prerequisite highlighted is the understanding of isolation and sterilization parameters to avoid unintentional cross- and open-pollination.
“Crops’ safe isolation zones can vary greatly, from as little as five meters to several kilometers. In addition to preventing cross-pollination from neighboring plants, breeders also have to take special care with self-pollinating plants,” explained Miss Saowanee.
The panelists went on to outline and explain specific breeding techniques for correctly identifying sexual organs of flowers (stigma and stamen), collecting pollen, isolating and sterilizing target plants.
Mr. Amnuai led a small demonstration with orchids, giving participants the chance to extract pollen and manually pollinate the plant. Participants were allowed to take home samples to find out if their efforts were sufficient.
In sum, Dr. Sompol highlighted the most important factor in plant breeding: heart.
“So much time, money and energy goes into plant breeding. It could be many years before you see any results, and you have to take into consideration many factors, such as the market and economic potential. Therefore, the most important factor you need is love and passion for breeding, which requires a lot of devotion.”