Interview with Michael Ferguson, hops breeder in E-Brida
Patrick Rietveld, E-Brida consultant at Agri Information Partners with a strong background in breeding and molecular markers, recently visited Michael D. Ferguson at the Innovations Center of John I. Haas Hops breeding in Yakima, Washington. Michael is Director of hops breeding at John I. Haas. During the visit, Patrick helped Michael by reviewing his process and introducing him to the latest features of the E-Brida breeding software. We interviewed Michael about his experiences with E-Brida and Agri Information Partners so far.
Michael used to breed strawberries for more than sixteen years before he rolled into hops four years ago. For Michael it was an interesting transition, but also a once in a lifetime opportunity to switch to hops.
Michael, can you tell us more about the time you started using E-Brida?
I use E-Brida since 2017 so for about 2,5 years and I have loved it. It has been a huge step forward from what I was doing before, what was working with a primitive access-based database.
I was looking for a software tool to support the pedigree tree logic and I came across E-Brida through a breeder in New-Zealand. Agri Information Partners gave an onsite demo, and I thought: wow! It gives me a lot more than I was looking for. I was pretty much sold. Starting with E-Brida was a low risk move with a huge upside potential for me. And of course, any software has a learning curve, but this is intuitive, and the support is just great.
The really hard thing at hops is that so many things are indirect. From hops sensory to beer sensory to agronomic data. Everything is indirect but critical which makes it different from other crops. I really struggled my first year with hops to put together all the data. What I do in my data process has grown exponentially. If you don’t capture that data and make the most of your season, you’re done until next year.
In my opinion, if you want to be successful in modern plant breeding, you better be moving towards some sort of good database. Else there is no way you can stay on top of the data.
Before we choose to go with E-Brida I looked at some other things, but it just seems like a good fit for this crop. And the on-site demo was just like: amen. I could see right there what it does. To me it was a no brainer.
To me, to be successful in plant breeding you need of course a good product. But the person who does that in the least amount of time with the lowest cost is going to be the winner. Gathering data is one thing, but you need to be able to use it to move forward in your next step. E-Brida has been a quantum leap forward in that regard.
How did the implementation go?
The part that surprised me the most was how quick that was. We spent three days and we brought in twelve years of historical data. We spent maybe a day on getting the data in, and I was using it instantly. I was nervous at the time because maybe I jumped in to fast, but I was really surprised how it worked out.
Which parts do you like the most?
For sure I love the pedigree tree where you can see as much detail as you want. You can just hoover over ever sibling to see the data. Furthermore, the mobile data part is huge. In hops, the data must be visible directly after observing. We make it happen with the mobile app.
Which parts do you like to be improved?
Hmm, I am trying to think. For the weighting part of our trials, we enter the data manually. For us it is not a big deal but connection between the scale and E-Brida would be a nice improvement. But on the actual software I don’t know. Some of the new things are huge improvements to me. The automatic calculation of the inbreeding coefficient (IBC) for example.
One of the things that Patrick did during his visit was introducing the latest features and functions in the new release. We asked Michael about his thoughts on the improvements.
It is definitely a positive step forward. To me, the Cross Designer is a massive step forward. It has far exceeded my expectations.
What do you think about Agri Information Partners and the support they give?
It’s excellent. Whenever I need help, I send an e-mail and I get the answer right away. And if I need more help, I can always set up a call. it is another excellent point of the product.
I haven’t needed a lot of help but the interaction with those guys is just great. Their plant scientists and breeders really know software and it saves a lot of pain that you guys know how the process works. Your visits also gave me plant breeding ideas that improves my own processes as an excellent bonus. You came up with things I haven’t thought about.
To be clear: my whole job is to be critical and judgmental, but E-Brida is an awesome product and the company is fantastic. I give them rave reviews. To me, it has totally changed my game of breeding.
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