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    Breeding objectives

We’re working on several breeding goals to achieve higher agricultural yields.

With a growing need for raw plant materials, we rely on continuous innovation. And we know, the biggest portion of any current increase in production is caused by technological innovation. Instead of increasing acreage, which used to increase cultivation, today’s goal is to minimize crop losses and maximize crop yields.

Our products aim to supply all of the different farming methods—conventional agriculture, agriculture using genetically modified plant varieties, and organic farming—in a more equal manner.

Breeding objectives at KWS

Yield

Yield is a complex characteristic, yet it is typically the most important breeding objective for all crop types. The desired yield increase, as well as stability, are closely linked to many other breeding objectives, such as resistance or nutrient efficiency. A desired yield can therefore be achieved in different ways.

Quality

The quality of a variety is determined primarily by the quality of harvest results. From a breeding point of view, however, it is a very complex characteristic that is influenced by many factors. The composition of the different elements, their effect on health and taste, and also their processing properties all play important roles.

Resistance

Plants are subject to various environmental conditions that have significant effect on yield stability. High resistance to pests and plant diseases, but also an increased tolerance to environmental factors such as drought and cold, are the key goals of our plant breeders.

Climate change also keeps posing new challenges that must be overcome. Weather extremes such as drought or heavy rain are expected to increase in the future. This increases the risks of sustained heat, cold, drought and wet weather could lead to crop failures. Climate changes could therefore be responsible for the presence of harmful organisms that were previously considered unremarkable. Against this background, plant breeders are working on new, adapted varieties, to ensure the stability of agricultural yields.

Nutrient efficiency

Nutrient intake by plants significantly influences growth which impacts yield. Plant varieties with good nutrient efficiency have the capacity for outstanding productivity across a wide range of nutritients, i.e. from shortage to surplus.

Plants with enhanced nitrogen efficiency, for instance, are better able to absorb the nitrogen available in the soil and convert it to biomass. In this respect, plant breeding can provide a significant contribution to sustainable agriculture, as nutrient-efficient varieties can help reduce the use of fertilizers and manure on fields.

Cultivation properties

Another plant breeding objective is to breed plants for adaptation to agronomic production processes. This mainly requires properties such as standability, height, winter hardiness, maturation period and steady growth.

Energy

Energy content is determined by plant composition: In addition to a high total biomass yield, breeders are primarily concerned with an increase in the oil, as well as sugar and starch content, of energy varieties for crops.

  • People at KWS

    Breeding goals are aimed toward the long-term: global challenges, such as climate change, and agricultural requirements, such as high yields.

    Jürgen Schweden, Global Head of Research and Services
    juergen_schweden.jpg

In addition, we focus on specific breeding goals for each type of crop and its respective uses.

Yield is always the main focus, but there are some differences. In the case of corn, we mainly look at total plant yield. For sugarbeet, on the other hand, specific sugar yield is crucial. Added to this are crop-specific characteristics such as baking quality in wheat, winter hardiness in barley or herbicide-resistance in sugarbeets. And let’s not forget that each crop has its own specific pests and diseases.

Corn

Increase in yield
With respect to the cultivation of silage corn, entire plant yield plays an important role. For grain corn breeding, grain yield is an important characteristic. In continental Europe, breeders of grain corn also take into account safe growth and are looking for an increased water supply for the grain prior to harvest. In addition to yield, yield stability is becoming increasingly important due to increased climate changes. Lodging and drought stress tolerance also play an important part.

Increase in tolerance to abiotic stress
The improvement of drought stress tolerance is an important breeding objective and is extremely significant, especially in southeast and eastern Europe.

Improvement of nutrient efficiency
Particularly in western Europe, improving nitrogen efficiency is an important breeding objective. This means that even if fertilization is limited, it should not impact the crop yield and should maintain high productivity levels.

Improving disease tolerance
To improve disease tolerance, breeders focus primarily on fungal diseases. Fusarium, northern leaf blight and corn ear rot are important examples of fungal diseases. However, the incidence of these fungal diseases varies from region to region.

Quality
As a quality characteristic, digestibility plays an important role in silage corn breeding.

Sugarbeet

Increase in yield
For sugarbeet, sugar yield is critical. This depends on both sugar content and root yield, whereby both partial characteristics are negatively correlated.

Improvement of pest and disease resistance
Several plant diseases can impact sugar yield and quality. They include various viral diseases, caused by rhizomania (beet necrotic yellow vein virus pathogen), yellowing viruses or the curly top virus. Under the umbrella term “fungal diseases,” breeders distinguish between leaf pathogens, such as Cercospora (leaf spot disease pathogen), powdery mildew, beet rust and Ramularia, whereas root pathogens include Rhizoctonia (beet rot pathogen) and Aphanomyces (root rot pathogen). In addition to plant diseases, breeders also concentrate on nematodes and different kinds of insects.

Bolting resistance
Bolting-resistant varieties are less affected by vernalization stimuli such as low temperatures and length of the day. This prevents biennial sugarbeet plants from growing flowering shoots in their first planted year. If the plant flowers it decreases the sugar content and weight of the beet, as tall of the energy produced is used to grow the flowers instead of the root.

Juice quality
Juice quality affects sugar yield while the beets are processed in the sugar factory. The goal is to decrease the proportion of molasses-forming properties, such as potassium, sodium and amino nitrogen. Molasses binds with parts of the sugar, reducing yield when extracting sugar from the juice.

Herbicide-resistance
The development of herbicide-resistant sugarbeet varieties is important for weed control, both in traditional and GMO cultivation.

Increase in tolerance to abiotic stress
Tolerance to drought, heat and elevated salt concentrations are important breeding goals.

Wheat

Increase in yield
The main objective is a high, stable yield. This is achieved by a good balance between yield and yield-stabilizing properties such as lodging, stress tolerance and plant health.

Increase in tolerance to abiotic stress
Winter hardiness and tolerance to drought and heat are important breeding goals. Winter wheat is sown in the fall and is overwintered in the fields. For varieties that are not adapted to frost temperatures, there is a high risk of winterkill. The crown of the plant (the part of the wheat stalk directly underneath the surface) is vital for the plant’s survival. The crown’s ability to survive low temperatures determines whether the wheat plant will continue to grow in the spring.

Baking quality
Baking quality is determined by protein content, protein quality, flour yield, water absorption and, at the end of the process, bread volume.

Improvement of pest and disease resistance
Different species of fungi affect the yield or quality of wheat. In this respect, breeders mainly concentrate on resistance against stem-base, leaf and head diseases, such as eye spot, yellow rust, brown rust, leaf septoria and head blight.

Rye

Increase in yield
An important objective is a high, stable yield. In the cultivation of rye, grain yield and biomass yield play important roles. To increase yield standability, breeders concentrate on agronomic characteristics such as stability, density and the 1,000 kernel weight. But resistance to plant diseases and tolerance for abiotic stress factors also have a major influence.

Agronomic characteristics
Important agronomic traits in rye breeding are good lodging, a large grain size (1,000 kernel weight), a stable density, and timely ear emergence and grain maturity.

Improvement of disease resistance
Various harmful fungi exist that have a significant impact on the leaf health of rye. Especially for grain rye, brown rust is one of the main leaf diseases, but black rust is also slowly gaining ground. Fusarium head blight also has a significant impact on the yield stability of rye and is mainly relevant to North America. Among viral diseases, the SCMV virus (soil-borne cereal mosaic virus) and WSSMV virus (wheat spindle streak mosaic virus) are becoming more prevalent.

Ergot (claviceps purpurea) is still one of the most significant pathogens in rye breeding. The damage caused by ergot is not so much yield loss but rather the toxic alkaloids present in the grain. High stocking in the crop limits commercialization for both human nutrition and feed use. As a cross-fertilizing plant, rye relies on pollination by wind. Unpollinated open flowers can be infected by ergot due to an insufficient pollen supply. This can be avoided by a targeted increase of the pollen supply. PollenPlus hybrid rye has a genetically higher pollen capacity. Thanks to a larger pollen supply, fertilization is accelerated because the husks close quickly so the ergot spores are unable to access them.

Quality characteristics
Important quality characteristics for rye are outgrowth-resistance and raw protein content. The so-called outgrowth occurs when the fruit skin on the seedling is broken in half. Outgrowths may lead, for example, to a strong reduction in baking properties.

Tolerance to abiotic stress factors
Rye is characterized by a superior drought stress tolerance compared to other crops. Nevertheless, breeders continuously screen for improved drought stress tolerance. In addition to drought stress tolerance, the development of winter hardy hybrids for colder regions in Eastern Europe and North America is a priority. However, hybrid development on Central European markets also benefits from these breeding programs.

Winter barley

Yield
The aim is a high, stable yield. This is achieved by a good balance between yield and yield-stabilizing properties such as standability and plant health.

Improvement of disease resistance
Different types of fungi affect the yield and quality of barley.
These include various fungal diseases such as mildew, net blotch, dwarf rust, rhynchosporium and ramularia. Improved resistance to viruses such as the bean yellow mosaic virus BYMV (soil-borne) and the barley yellow dwarf virus BYDV (transferred by lice) is just as important. Insecticidal seed treatments from the neonicotinoid family are currently not allowed in this crop. This sharpens the breeders’ focus on varieties with a resistance to BYDV on a high yield level.

Quality
High test weight and good grain separation play an important role in the trade of fodder barley and therefore also have a high selection value.

The characteristic “brewing quality” consists of various individual properties, such as extract content, enzyme activities, protein content, tenderness and viscosity. All these characteristics are important for the malt and brewing process. Malting barley varieties should also contain a lot of starch, but rather little protein.

Boosting tolerance to abiotic stress such as winter hardiness
Winter barley is sown in the fall and is overwintered in the field. For varieties that are not adapted to frost temperatures, there is a high risk of winterkill. Because a good selection based on this complex trait occurs only irregularly in natural conditions, it is supported by artificial frost tests.

Rapeseed

Yield
The aim is to increase both the grain yield and the oil yield by simultaneously improving the oil content, because the oil content of the grain determines the higher value.

Quality
Other than increasing the oil content, the aim is to simultaneously increase the protein content of the rapeseed meal with a concurrently low glucosinolate content. The oil quality is solely the double zero standard quality with no erucic acid and a normal level of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Resistance to pests
In particular, the aim is increased resistance to the fungal disease stem rot. Improved resistance to the diseases verticillium and sclerotinia is another mid- to long-term goal, however, as is resistance to clubroot in infested areas as part of a special program.

Increase in tolerance to abiotic stress
In this respect, improvement of winter hardiness is particularly a priority. A low tendency for stem stretching in the fall is especially important.

Improvement of the agronomic properties
Besides good standability, breeding goals are haulm maturation parallel with grain maturation. Both early and later rapeseed varieties are selected to make the harvest window more flexible. During pre-winter conditioning, both fast-growing types, suitable for late sowing, and slow-developing varieties for early sowing are selected.

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Thilo Resenhoeft
Thilo Resenhoeft
Corporate Communications
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