New breeding initiative puts focus on future grower needs

  • New SPP initiative to underpin all future KWS breeding development

  • Launched in response to rapidly changing grower needs

  • Focusing on functional traits could add costs benefits equal to 20% extra yield

Seed breeders will have to align future genetic developments with five priority grower needs if they are to help them achieve the goal of more sustainable production in the next few years, believe KWS.

Announcing their new SPP (Sowing for Peak Performance) breeding initiative, the company says focusing on developing functional traits to address future production challenges could deliver greater cost benefits to growers than targeting higher yields.

“It’s a very different world from ten years ago,” says the company’s knowledge transfer manager Dr. Kirsty Richards.

“Whilst historically varieties have been primarily judged on their ability to deliver high outputs and physical or agronomic traits have been seen as secondary benefits, the environment in which we will all be producing crops in the future is rapidly turning the tables.

“80% of the crop production results you see are down to the seed choices you make. You can fine-tune this with agronomy and nutrition, but fundamentally the potential of your crop is locked in with seed you drill.

“High yield and ability to consistently reach market specifications are still critical, but other crop characteristics are now becoming equally mission critical.”

Revocation of agrochemicals and pressure on the eradicated activity of those remaining combined with the issues of more variable growing conditions resulting from climate change and the need to reduce carbon footprint in line with greater environmental demands, are increasingly important, she says.

“We’ve identified five key grower needs that will underpin all our future breeding development and these form the foundation of our SPP initiative.

“Firstly growers will need to maximise production and profitability from their existing resources.

“Secondly they will need to achieve effective crop management with reduced windows of opportunity as a result of climate change and thirdly, they will need to achieve optimum crop health without a high level of agronomic interventions.”

The final two drivers are to reduce amount of all inputs used and associated costs and the need to protect soil for the long-term, she points out.

“SPP represents a direct acknowledgement of these five key essential grower needs and signals a commitment from KWS to make sure our future genetic development addresses these issues as far as possible.

“Traits such as disease resistance, standing power, high vigour to outcompete weeds and late drilling capability already offer growers the means to address many of these issues but this is but the start.

“Specific characteristics to match varieties to cultivation method used, greater levels of in-built resilience to counter more variable growing conditions, stronger physical traits and a greater range of disease resistance available in the future, have the potential to transform the economics and day-to-day management of crops.”

Cost benefits of functional traits often underestimated

The costs benefits of combining such traits should not be underestimated, says KWS product development manager John Miles.

“Functional traits such as disease resistance, standing power and earlier harvest date can simplify management and reduce production costs to a much greater degree than many currently believe.

“Secondary factors such as savings in diesel, labour, machinery replacement and better soil condition can multiply the benefits many times over and help producers meet the requirements of integrated pest management (IPM) demands and environmental legislation much easier.

“It’s too easy to look at good standing power, for example, and think it’s a trait that might save you a bit on growth regulators, but when you look at the risk with regard to the potential effects of lodged crops the cost benefit implications are much more significant.”

There are the initial saving on PGRs, but with lodged crops, costs can escalate per hectare when you start to factor in extra diesel, labour and machinery hours, he explains.

“The worst case scenario in a catchy harvest is that it starts to affect next season’s crops due to remedial cultivations or soil damage occurring. This may be a ‘worst case’ but it’s still a risk that could be mitigated by variety choice in the first instance.

“In terms of KWS’s Group 2 winter wheat Extase, if you combine fungicide reduction due to a lower risk situation at £60/ha with retention of premium at £171/ha using the RL’s 11.4t/ha yield for the variety, the value of these adds up to £231/ha.

“With our Group 3 variety Firefly, we estimate the greater security in the field, reduced PGR and drying costs combined with premium retention is worth about £140/ha.

“It involves a change of mindset but focusing on what a variety brings to your management in terms of functional traits alone could produce cost benefits equivalent to 20% extra yield – it is that significant.

“This is borne out by the £231/ha additional benefits from Extase before factoring in the cost advantages of earlier ripening and earlier harvesting and its effect on timeliness throughout the critical autumn period.

“At approximately, £75 - £80/ha for seed on-farm, this suggests around a 300% return on investment is possible from functional traits alone before higher yields are accounted for.

“Whilst developing new varieties and producing seed is always costly and time consuming for breeders, these gains represent sizeable opportunities for growers. These gains are likely to be even more in the future.

“SPP brings all that thinking together to offer varieties specifically aligned to production challenges and market requirement whilst delivery tangible results for growers on the ground in terms of environmental advantages and cost benefits.”

Find out more about Sowing for Peak Performance