Only winter oilseed rape hybrids are grown at McGregor Farms in the Scottish Borders, where they grow 700 hectares of the crop.
The vigour and traits which hybrids offer combine to produce a consistently high gross output which, according to Tom Hoggan, graduate trainee manager at the business, has secured their place in the rotation indefinitely.
He says: “We see hybrid seed as an investment.
If you are putting good quality hybrid seed in the ground, you are giving yourself a really good chance of getting that crop up and away and looking well through winter – a much better chance than if it were conventional seed.” Enhanced vigour is the primary reason for their choice of hybrids.
Mr Hoggan says: “Autumns are often quite wet here and a large percentage of our oilseed rape area is drilled from August 20 onwards, into September, after wheat because we don’t grow much winter barley.
You can get away with drilling hybrids slightly later than you would conventional varieties because of their vigour.
We want the crop to be up and away before our main pest, slugs, cause problems.” Cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) has not been an issue on McGregor Farms as yet.
Establishment is done by a one-pass system and surface trash provides the ideal environment for slugs.
Mr Hoggan says: “Growing hybrids definitely ensures the crop marches on and grows away from slugs.”
It is not only the hybrid vigour which is greatly valued by Mr Hoggan, the traits hybrids exhibit are also important.
“When choosing a variety, oil content is of primary consideration along with pod shatter resistance and disease resistance.
We deploy clubroot-resistant hybrids where the effects of this soil-borne pathogen have been seen.” One of the hybrids grown at McGregor Farms, BASF’s early maturing InVigor® 1035 (InV1035), has pod shatter resistance, excellent disease resistance and verticillium wilt tolerance, as well as some of the best oil contents available.
Mr Hoggan says: “We grow oilseed rape for gross output rather than just seed yield, so it is important to try and get the premium for the oil content.” Achieving a five-year average yield of 4.9 tonnes per hectare, Mr Hoggan adds:
“We just try and do the basics right and if you are putting good hybrid seed in the ground then you are giving yourself a better chance of consistently achieving high yields, a much greater chance than you would sowing conventional varieties.” David Leaper, Agrii seed technical specialist, says: “InV1035 has been our biggest selling variety over the last few years because of its growth characteristics.
It excels in challenging establishment conditions and has very vigorous growth over the three months up to Christmas.
"You can get away with drilling hybrids slightly later than you would conventional varieties because of their vigour."
Dirk Decherf, BASF European breeding manager for oilseed rape, says: “Breeding a hybrid starts with the creation and selection of parental lines.
“The combining ability of these parental lines is evaluated in test hybrid combinations where we measure yield and vigour to obtain the highest yielding hybrids.
“As breeders, we want to deliver a yield increase and yield stability while balancing this with the transfer of genetic information which delivers the traits which are of interest to the grower.
“For certain traits, such as clubroot and phoma resistance and pod shatter reduction, it is sufficient to have the trait in only one parent to obtain the trait in the hybrid.” For the UK, resistance to diseases such as light leaf spot, phoma and turnip yellows virus (TuYV) are critical.
The recent introduction of the trait which confers TuYV resistance to hybrid varieties, a virus which is endemic across the whole of the UK, delivers 7-10% more yield alone.
Mr Decherf says: “Looking ahead, our BASF InVigor® breeding programme continues to stack different traits into our elite parental lines.
“In the spring and winter oilseed rape pipeline ‒ especially for CIS and Eastern European countries there are hybrids which combine the Clearfield® trait with our patented pod shatter reduction trait and improved TuYV, clubroot and phoma resistance in the winter hybrids.
Thinking specifically of the UK pipeline, we have a winter hybrid with the Clearfield® and clubroot traits, phoma resistance and pod shatter currently in registration trials.
“Techniques, such as the use of genetic markers and predictive breeding, have transformed the breeding process over the last 20 years and there has been a phenomenal success rate in the introduction of genetic traits, allowing hybrids to reach growers faster than in the past.
However, breeders need to be anticipating and working on what the growersʼ needs for the crop will be in 10 yearsʼ time.
“For example, breeding for potential climate change impacts,drought tolerance, future sustainability requirements, nitrogen efficiency, protein quality and insect resistance in the OSR crop are all in progress.
“The outcome of the current UK consultation around the technologies which fall under the umbrella of genetic modification, such as gene editing, will dictate the future speed of progress.”
“By building the canopy and creating a big plant you are building resilience into your crop and potentially saving money.
We know oilseed rape has an optimum green area index and if you can build the canopy before Christmas, you’re reducing the need to apply as much fertiliser in spring.” Research over the last five years has shown that a big canopy, a big root collar size and a more robust plant in autumn provide more resilience against CSFB.
Mr Leaper adds: “We have seen massive strides forward in oilseed rape breeding and the quality of varieties now is a step apart from what we used to grow.
It is noticeable that the number of breeders who breed conventional varieties has dwindled, with some companies, such as BASF, exclusively breeding hybrids.
“Plant breeding is giving us varieties with more resilience and the ability to cope with extremes which will certainly be experienced in the future.” Mr Leaper acknowledges that in the short term, there are issues with regard to the area grown because of CSFB.
“However, the future is positive because oilseed rape produces a very healthy oil and has a good fit within UK arable rotations.”
A hybrid is obtained by crossing two pure parental lines which are considered genetically distant.
The resulting seeds, F1 hybrid seeds, are generally more vigorous and productive than the initial parents.
This hybrid vigour is called heterosis.
A conventional seed variety, also called an ʻopen-pollinatedʼ variety, is developed by combining plant crossings with a succession of self-pollinations and selecting steps.
The results are the so-called ʻpure lineʼ varieties of oilseed rape.
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