Instructables

Hand Pollinating Soybeans

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The following Instructable will assist field workers in a soybean breeding program. Crossing (also called hybridizing) soybeans is very important to create varieties that provide farmers around the world with successful harvests year after year. Unfortunately, breeding between different individuals is not done in nature with soybeans; meaning insects or wind cannot do the job. This requires humans to do almost all of the work. Pollinating soybean flowers requires good eyesight and a steady hand to ensure success.  At first glance this process may appear to be complex---but as one works in the field the tasks quickly become second nature and the entire procedure can be done in as little as 2-3 minutes.

Several terms specific to plants are used in the subsequent text. Please refer to the following diagram in case a word is not clear. Soybean flowers are not incredibly different than other flowers you might see and it is relatively simple to pick out each part.

Photo Source: www.studyblue.com (diagram), http://extension.udel.edu (soybean plant)
 
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Step 1: Materials Needed

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1. Tweezers
2. Identification tag with twist tie
3. Pencil or marker
4. Small vial or petri dish
5. Male crossing parent
6. Female crossing parent
7. Kneepads (optional)
8. Magnifying glasses (optional)

Photo Source: http://www.nsrl.uiuc.edu

Step 2: Search for bright opened flowers on male parent

Picture of Search for bright opened flowers on male parent
Good pollen generally comes from flowers that open for the first time; petals’ colors will appear to be “cleaner” looking and healthier than others on the branches. Avoid browning or shriveled looking flowers as they tend to have lower quality pollen.

Photo Source: www.nsrl.uiuc.edu

Step 3: Gently use tweezers to completely remove flower from plant

Picture of Gently use tweezers to completely remove flower from plant
In a pinching motion grab the end of the flower beneath where the green sepals are located. Avoid violent ripping of the bud that could damage the anthers and/or lose pollen.

Photo Source: http://www.nsrl.uiuc.edu

Step 4: Remove petals one by one until anthers are seen

Picture of Remove petals one by one until anthers are seen
Use a peeling motion to carefully remove each colored petal. The anthers should be clearly seen, forming a ring around the female style and stigma.

Photo Source: Dr. Reed Palmer, USDA-ARS

Step 5: Test pollen amount using a fingernail

Picture of Test pollen amount using a fingernail
The anthers will contain a sufficient amount of pollen if yellow powder is left after gently tapping the flower once onto a fingernail.

Photo Source: Dr. Reed Palmer, USDA-ARS
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