F1 Hybrids: A Bigger Picture

F1 hybrids are getting a lot of attention in the specialty coffee industry recently and for good reason; they show strong potential for improving farmers’ resilience to climate change. In coffee tree breeding, F1 hybrids (or just ‘F1s’) are the filial generation of offspring produced by breeding two trees chosen specifically for their desirable traits such as yield, disease resistance, etc. The same parent trees can be used to produce many F1 hybrids over the course of their lifetime.

F2 hybrids are produced with F1’s as the parent.

In plant breeding, the parent plants are chosen for their predictable genetic effects on their offspring (wiki.com). Each time these specific parents’ genes are combined, the outcome is predictable and the F1 generation contains the desired traits (see image below).

But becuase of the way genetic material is recombined and passed on, the F2 generation is much less homogenous and varies greatly as to the traits expressed. Therefore producing seeds from F1 plants is not as successful in producing homogenous offspring (hybrid vigor). Farmers who purchase F1 seeds and plant only F1 seeds will in effect be dependent on the producer of those F1 seeds.

Tocharianne (PNG version), WhiteTimberwolf (SVG version) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tocharianne (PNG version), WhiteTimberwolf (SVG version) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As long as the producer of the F1 seeds remains a rational actor, this is not a problem. However, there is great potential here for price-gouging as well as patent abuse (if the F1 seeds are patented).

It’s important to note that selective breeding and genetic research are expensive and technically complicated matters and F1 coffee seeds can be of great value to farmers. They are a great way to ensure that a farmer’s planted stock has the desired traits necessary to help ensure the farmer’s success and sustainability (economic, social, and environmental). We, as an industry, just need to make sure that in the process of trying to make things better (by making F1s available, in this case), we don’t create a situation that is worse (a monopoly on F1 seeds).

Michael C. Wright

Michael is an American expat living in Southeast Asia where he writes about many things coffee-related. A roaster by trade, Michael is also a licensed Q Grader and an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST).