NIAB Invites Winter Oilseed Rape Plant Breeders for Open Day

5 May 2008

An Open Day held for some of the UK’s leading plant breeders at NIAB highlighted the latest issues and innovations that their scientific experts have been working on over the past year with the National List testing process of Winter Oilseed Rape.

Discussion centred on the contemporary approaches to service delivery and how to improve the value for money that these services offer. The event provided a unique opportunity for NIAB to listen to and respond to the needs of the plant breeders.

DUS testing for National Listing is a statutory EU requirement and also enables the breeder to own the copyright and earn royalties from seed sales of a variety which has been submitted for registration. However, extensive trials and evaluations are carried out, first to ensure it meets strict DUS requirements – the “candidate” must be Distinct, Uniform and Stable – according to guidelines laid out by the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO). The process requires measurement and assessment of morphological characteristics.

NIAB is contracted by DEFRA to conduct the DUS test, underpinned by a performance improvement system designed to improve the value for money it offers while retaining a quality service. Details of these innovation projects and ideas for further efficiency savings were outlined to DEFRA representatives and plant breeders who attended the Open Day.

Dr Carol Norris, Technical Manager for Oilseeds at NIAB, highlighted the challenges of carrying out these tests, where each candidate variety has to be compared against the reference collection which contains data on all listed varieties, known as the “common knowledge” pool. This is increasingly becoming a longer and more costly process as the already large reference collection of Winter Oilseed Rape is constantly increasing in size.

NIAB currently has 493 reference samples for Winter Oilseed Rape (WOSR) and a number of year 1 and year 2 submissions in the 2008 trial, with each variety replicated three times in the field in order to provide the required data. Morphological characteristics are recorded from the plots during the recording season and added to the DUS database. Once all recording is finished the data are analysed statistically and the results interpreted to establish whether the variety in question is distinct from all others.

In addition to the conventional varieties, there is an increasing numbers of hybrid varieties that are submitted for testing. In these instances, the hybrid as well as the two parent lines and the maintainer line, have to be tested. This means there are “four “candidates effectively, each needing to be drilled with three replicate plots.

Jennifer Wyatt, head of Certification and Agricultural DUS at NIAB, explained how they had been trying to reduce the size of the reference collection to make the process more efficient and cost effective:

NIAB is using technical innovations to save time and money. An example is their use of a laser measuring device which captures the plant’s height data on the instrument. Previously a tall hand ruler was used to measure plant height, which required two people to make an accurate measurement.

NIAB is also pioneering image analysis, using a camera to capture images of petals or pods. The images are then measured by a computer programme and the data captured directly onto the computer. This measuring process was previously carried out by hand using small rulers and was a very painstaking task.

Nigel Padbury, who is in charge of the oilseeds portfolio for Syngenta in the UK and Ireland, said there were no answers yet about what would happen with the reference collection.

“It’s an ongoing discussion that will probably take several years to get our heads around because it is not just a UK problem, but a pan-European problem,” He said

Dr Andrew Mitchell, Technical Manager, DEFRA, Plant Varieties and Seeds Division, said that value for money was crucial, and that the Open Day had given him an opportunity to meet plant breeders and discuss feedback about the DUS testing process.

The next event for breeders will be the DUS Cereals Open Day on June 18th 2008

Further information is available press consultant Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564 or 07939 811961