• KWS project team in the field

Discover some of our current projects for sustainable agriculture

Our research and breeding programmes are used to develop competitive plant varieties for an efficient and sustainable agriculture. Our work focuses on yield stability, product quality and the preservation of genetic resources. Rapidly advancing technological developments in the field of plant biotechnology have given rise to increasingly more new opportunities for the development of crop varieties with improved characteristics.

Nitrogen-efficient maize

Farmers require nitrogen-efficient varieties to achieve stable yields, even when fertilisation is limited. KWS has therefore developed maize varieties that remain productive even when the soil contains little nitrogen. However, nitrogen-efficient varieties should not only grow well when there is a lack of nutrition, but should if possible achieve good yields across a wide range of nitrogen supply.

To achieve this objective, our breeders and researchers investigate the natural variation of nitrogen efficiency and analyse the genetic make-up of different maize plants that provide stable yields even with limited fertilisation. This has shown that nitrogen-efficiency cannot simply be traced back to genetic make-up. It is rather a complex characteristic, influenced by many sections of DNA.

We therefore aim to find out through further analyses which genes or sections in DNA actually play a role. With this knowledge, our breeders can make a more targeted selection, thereby improving the nitrogen-efficiency of maize.

Next-generation herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets

The US sugarbeet market is currently characterised by a need for genetically modified sugarbeet varieties with multiple tolerances for herbicides to aid weed control. To meet this need, we are currently working on a follow-up product for the very successful Roundup Ready®-sugarbeet. Our researchers and breeders are working together to develop a new generation of herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets with a triple tolerance against three substances.

  • People at KWS

    Our maxim: powerful seeds for sustainable agriculture with high yields.

    Hinrich Harling, Head of Research Europe

Hybrid potato seeds

KWS has been pursuing a research-intensive project since 2011: The development of diploid hybrid potatoes, which can be cultivated and distributed using seed. The breeding progress for potatoes has been going very slowly up until now.

To counter this stagnating progress, our breeders and researchers are working on hybrid breeding of potatoes. This would have several crucial advantages: Diploid potatoes allow for much more effective breeding work. At the same time, the risk of a pest infestation in seeds is considerably lower than for seed potatoes.

And last but not least, switching to potato seeds would mean there was no longer any need to cool the seed potatoes while storing them and especially during their time-consuming transport.However, plenty of research and development is still needed before the first competitive varieties will be available on the market.

Feature detection from the air

How a plant’s genetic make-up and the various environmental influences actually interact can only be established in the field. We can therefore only find out for sure whether a plant variety actually exhibits a desired characteristic by means of field tests. However, to do this we must be able to document the plant features in a precise and reliable way.

In this respect, we want to support our breeding perspective with new phenotyping processes and further optimise the selection process. This is why KWS invests in the development of new methods to automatically record certain characteristics of plants. We also investigate the possibilities of digital imaging in combination with several sensor technologies and drone systems.

The aim is to use, for instance, aerial images to very quickly and precisely draw conclusions on characteristics such as growth height or a possible disease outbreak.

Maximising photosynthesis efficiency in maize

Maize is what is known as a C4 plant. They use a special method of photosynthesis characterised by improved water-use efficiency. C4 plants can therefore grow more biomass in a shorter space of time, if the light irradiation and temperature are increased. Nevertheless, even maize plants do not achieve the maximum light output.

This reveals as yet untapped potential to increase the yield. In collaboration with the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, the Technical University Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Crop Physiology in Potsdam, KWS is working on this subject as part of a project funded by the BMBF [German Federal Ministry of Education and Research].

Our aim is to gain new scientific knowledge that can be used to improve photosynthesis efficiency in breeding. First, are we investigating which factors influence C4 photosynthesis in maize; at the same time, we want to find out more about the natural variety of photosynthesis by means of marker technology.

Crops of the future

"Crops of the future" wants to promote the breeding of crops through an innovative public/private model. This international consortium combines the resources of leading agricultural companies and research organisations to overcome the future challenges of the food supply chain.

The goal is to breed crops with special properties to better adapt them to various environmental conditions - for example, improved nutritional properties, or tolerance against drought, heat or floods. We are planning to use scientific publications and platforms to publicise the knowledge generated, so both public and private breeding projects can benefit from it.

The technical focus is on genome editing, genome sequencing and phenomics, which explores the relationships between the genetic make-up of a plant, its environmental conditions and its performance.

Visit the “Crops of the future” website

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Stephan Krings
Stephan Krings
Head of Global Marketing and Communications
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