Setting new standards in oilseed rape
Research programme in Oilseed Rape : speed is key
Given the complexity of the programme, the speed of progress has been astonishing, thanks to the company’s technological expertise, partnerships with key research bodies and proven trialling methods.
Damien Dugué is RAGT’s Oilseed Rape breeder based at Annoeullin in Northern France and the man who transformed the company’s OSR breeding effort.
“The main areas of breeding programme are of course OSR yield potential and oil content, as well as protein content,” he says.
“We are also working on pod shatter and disease resistance, including turnip yellows virus, light leaf spot and stem canker, as well as Sclerotinia and club root. We are also investigating resistances to cabbage stem flea beetle and pollen beetle ” in order to bring in-field solutions to farmers
RAGT’s proven expertise in genomic selection has helped, thanks to exclusive genetic markers that help identify promising hybrid lines quickly and accurately.
In addition, RAGT is using two sterility systems in its hybrid breeding programmes, Ogura CMS (Cytoplasmic Male Sterility), and MSL (Male Sterility Lembke). Most plant breeders use one or the other.
“MSL can produce a lot of hybrids but the conversions are more difficult to manage and take a lot more work,” says Damien.
“CMS can produce many new lines each year faster and is simpler to manage. Each might favour one trait over another, but both are delivering very good products.”
Various research projects with other parties also support the new breeding programme. RAGT has a 25% share in research company Innolea, a collaborative project with Lidea Seeds, Limagrain and Sofiprotéol.
Main areas under investigation include resistances to cabbage stem flea beetle and pollen beetle, as well as stem canker and Sclerotinia, and the development of high protein rapeseed as an alternative to soya.
Regarding pest control : RAGT is also working with the John Innes Centre (JIC) and Warwick University to develop resistance to the same insect pests.
“Innolea is looking at flea beetle in a very different way, but I can’t go in to any more detail,” says Lee Bennett, RAGT’s managing director. “And they are doing the same for pollen beetle.”
Damien adds: “For the crop to survive we need to develop varieties that can withstand insect pressure. We are making a lot of progress in this area.
“High biomass can help the crop to establish, but the larval part is another question. With JIC and Warwick University we are testing in the laboratory, but it is very complex target for breeding.”
Lee points out that speed of development and vigour are now key in any breeding programme. “Slow varieties are no good to anyone. They have to set off like a rocket and never look back, especially in the post-neonicotinoid era.
“Good autumn vigour is critical, but spring regrowth is even more crucial.”
Longer term, he believes a genetic solution to flea beetle would propel the OSR seed market back to its historic highs in the UK. “This is not lost on farmers, but plant breeding has got to play catch up and deliver the goods.”
RAGT is also building some very broad-ranging disease resistances into its pipeline varieties.
“For example, RAGT has now harnessed genetic marker technology that allows us to introduce an alternative resistance to turnip yellows virus (TuYV). Rather than relying on a single gene, it is a polygenic resistance, which is much harder to overcome.”
OSR light leaf spot is another success story, with some very strong varieties now in official testing.
“Light leaf spot is a very complex story”, says Lee. “The disease cycles every few weeks, and chemical control proves to be an increasingly difficult challenge. A broad base of resistance is critical, which is why it is a key breeding objective.”
Damien adds that varieties with polygenic resistance to stem canker are also under development, important given the decline in monogenic RLM7 resistance that the industry has relied upon for years.
Testing to destruction
RAGT also has new sources of polygenic resistance to Sclerotinia. Although very incidental, growers spray almost prophylactically as it can be highly damaging in bad seasons.
New inoculation techniques developed by Damien enable his team to test varieties to destruction. “Sclerotinia is an unpredictable disease so we needed to find reliable ways to infect trial crops,” he says.
These include placing Sclerotinia-inoculated sunflower seeds in leaf nodes and inserting matchsticks coated with inoculum into plant stems.
Lee adds: “We are not at the commercial stage yet but we know we have a very robust tolerance to Sclerotinia. If we can introduce this, we’ve cut out a sprayer pass.
“That’s not just saving the cost of applying it – it’s all about the manufacture of the chemical, transporting it and the corporate social responsibility area as well.”
For any further question just contact us on Seed Breeding | RAGT UK (ragtseeds.co.uk)
RAGT Managing Director
TEL: 01799 533711