Think of successful KWS oilseed rape varieties and you’ll probably focus on high vigour conventional options such as Campus and Blazen, but all that is about to change, says Pei-Chen Wu, the company’s new UK-based oilseed rape breeder.
KWS last entered conventional varieties into official trials in 2020, switching its focus to 100% hybrid oilseed rape, with KWS Granos and Hanneli the first of these hybrids to be launched in the UK, she explains.
“Conventional varieties have served the company and our customers well over the last few years.
Campus, for example, has been on the market for eight years and although it hasn’t been listed since 2019/20, it’s still one of the top five most popular varieties in the UK.
“Since 2014, Campus has produced well over £500 million of revenue for UK growers, with plantings for 2022 harvest showing no let up in its popularity.
Compete “There’s always been the feeling in KWS that a really good conventional variety can compete with the best of the hybrids and the idea of farmers being able to save seed and grow it as cost-effectively as possible has always sat well with us.
“While others have built their portfolios around hybrids, KWS has been a bit more circumspect.
But times change and so too do the needs of growers.
“Climate change is resulting in more challenging and variable growing conditions for crops and we’re all looking at how inputs can be trimmed in line with environmental requirements and, increasingly, cost reduction.
“Reacting to these changes in a timely way is difficult with conventional varieties, simply due to the complexity of the breeding process, but issues like improving sustainability in food and farming plus addressing the growing concerns around food security need quicker responses.
“Increasing yields, improving vigour and building in better disease resilience are increasingly urgent requirements for the whole global food production industry and it is simply much easier to address these with hybrid breeding than conventional approaches.”
The decision to move to hybrid breeding also aligns with KWS’ Sowing for Peak Performance (SPP) initiative, which is specifically designed to fast-track development of key traits to help meet key challenges increasingly faced by growers, she adds.
“We can combine traits more easily, bring them to market in a shorter time frame and respond much more quickly to the requirements of customers.
Confidence “Just two years ago, we would probably have said it takes 10 years to bring a new trait to the market, but now it is much more like five years from identifying the need to making it commercially available.
“Furthermore, we’re now testing our hybrids across eight countries, so the opportunity to share results from multiple sites gives us real confidence in the performance of our material.
“While we’ll use these resources to improve existing traits such as resistances to light leaf spot, phoma stem canker in the shape of RlmS, pod shatter, turnip yellow virus and clubroot, other functional properties such as standing ability are being targeted.”
Improving the resistance and tolerance of new generation varieties to cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) and its larvae are also on the agenda, Ms Wu says.
“We are focusing on two distinct breeding programmes: Maritime and Continental.
“The Maritime programme is largely focused on countries like the UK and France and will be looking more at increasing vigour, achieving better establishment and building disease resistance.
“The Continental one, which is based more on countries such as Germany and Poland, is centred around maximising oil content and how resistance to flea beetle can be achieved.
“We’re seeing some very promising signs across Europe now and starting to identify lines that definitely have better CSFB tolerance than others.
The next challenge is to identify the genes that are contributing to this.
“Ironically, the better growers have got at establishing oilseed rape to help it grow through attack from the beetle in autumn, the greater the threat of larvae is the following spring.
“The more robust the plant is the more tolerant it is to CSFB larvae attack and we’ve got some good germplasm coming through now and commercial varieties with these being launched across Europe.
“As with disease resistance in wheat, early examples of varieties with breakthrough traits often carry a yield penalty, but look where we are now with varieties like KWS Extase that combine the highest yields with unrivalled levels of disease resistance.
“The same thing will happen with oilseed rape.
We’re confident that very soon we will have tolerant varieties that have much lower infestations of larvae in spring with the same high yields as other hybrids.”