Drought, heat stress and changing growing conditions are taking their toll on farming with increasing numbers of agricultural pests and diseases. At the same time, political pressure in the form of directives prescribing the reduction or elimination of plant protection products such as insecticides is aggravating the situation even further.
This all adds up to an area of tension that can affect farmers’ crop yields and thus also jeopardize the food security of a growing population. Modern KWS oilseed rape varieties show how the use of resources can be reduced while still securing yields by improving the genetic make-up of plants through breeding: Depending on the area of application, crops can be made increasingly resistant to pests, such as the cabbage-stem flea beetle and fungal diseases, such as phoma lingam.
Oilseed rape is an important part of crop rotation: Its intensive leaf development suppresses weeds, prevents the field from drying out too much, and protects against erosion. With its strong root system, it can also access nutrients and water deep down in the soil. In addition, oilseed rape offers a wide range of uses – as edible oil in human diets, as protein-rich animal feed or as biofuel. However, the cultivation of oilseed rape sees farmers confronted with challenges such as the cabbage-stem flea beetle, which is a major crop pest throughout Europe. Infestations can lead to significant yield losses or even the complete loss of the crop. Following the ban on neonicotinoid seed coatings in EU countries, and restrictions on the use of insecticides, the damage caused by the cabbage-stem flea beetle is expected to increase in the future. It is, therefore, all the more important to breed strong and healthy varieties whose genetics provide them with a natural defense against infestation. According to the renowned French research institute Terres Inovia, these are varieties that are included in the KWS portfolio and have been confirmed by independent studies of modern oilseed rape varieties to show a clear correlation between genetics and low larval infestation. Without the use of insecticides, the number of larvae in competitor varieties was sometimes twice as high as in the specific KWS varieties.
Excellent genetics make life harder for phoma
In addition to the cabbage-stem flea beetle, there are other pests and diseases that can affect oilseed rape. One of these is the globally widespread fungal disease phoma, which usually attacks oilseed rape crops in the fall and can lead to considerable yield losses.
KWS is working continuously on improved varieties and already launched several high performance varieties with innovative phoma resistance over the years. In 2019, KWS was able to successfully register the new phoma resistance “RlmS” as latest innovation in France – one of the largest oilseed rape growing regions in Europe. Work is currently underway to integrate new sources of resistance. The new genes are important in the prevention of resistance breakdowns.
New sources of resistance ensure high-yielding varieties
The latest breeding successes in oilseed rape are helping to ensure the profitable and sustainable cultivation of the crop in line with the KWS Sustainability Ambition 2030, in which the company sets ambitious and measurable goals to deliver solutions for sustainable and responsible agriculture. KWS breeding continues to work with foresight on developing high-yielding varieties and being able to provide farmers with holistic solutions to challenges like protection against plant diseases and pests, or other challenges, such as improved nitrogen efficiency.