Improved Nitrogen efficiency, greater drought tolerance and enhanced nutritional properties are all on the radar for wheat varieties in the future, believes DSV wheat breeder Dr. Matt Kerton.
Although a relatively new entrant to the world of wheat breeding, the company’s UK-based programme has already achieved major success with several ‘breakthrough’ varieties in recent years, he points out.
“For a start there’s DSV Champion, the highest yielding wheat on the current AHDB Recommended List.
“Then there’s DSV Theodore, widely regarded as the cleanest wheat on the current list, and we now have DSV Oxford on the Candidate List, so that could be a trio of very strong varieties on the RL by the end of 2022.”
Several key factors have led to the success of the wheat programme to date, he believes.
“With the current pressures on growers and those likely to emerge in the future, our approach is to focus on disease resistance and agronomic traits first and select for yield secondly.
“Our UK breeding station is in a strong septoria pressure area, for example, but one which also has a lot of yellow rust and this allows us to select for septoria resistance first knowing that yellow rust will also be a factor.
“The stronger the disease pressure in the early breeding stages, the stronger the genetic material coming through these is.”
In addition the UK breeding sites, DSV also has breeding programmes running in France and Germany as well as trials sites in Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands
“These are supported by a ‘state of the art’ molecular laboratory at Thule in Germany which allows us to ‘model’ the likely outcome of crosses before we physically make them.
“This helps ensure the material entering our breeding programmes is as close as possible to our required specification from the very start.
“This not only shortens the time from concept to commercial reality, it also strengthens the lines by fixing certain traits from the earliest stages and ensures we can track these at all times through the breeding process.”
Creating the new DSV varieties of the future could be based more on looking to the past, Matt Kerton points out.
“We are increasingly turning back the genetic clock to mine characteristics of the past to see if they have relevance to the future.
“For example, it could be that we have lost some strong drought tolerance genes that could be very useful when combined with modern high yielding genetics.”
Wheat has to develop and evolve to address the needs of growers and markets in the future but DSV’s approach is very much to breed for today, he explains.
“There is no point in breeding now for an event that is potentially 20 years away. Timescales are important and with the average breeding cycle around 5 – 10 years, we believe there are some breeding aims which have greater priority than others.
“Nitrogen efficiency of varieties is one of our biggest areas of focus, not just because of the current high price of fertilisers but also the environmental pressure to reduce use of Nitrogen long-term.
“We are also looking at improving the nutritional quality of wheat by discovering genes involved in the control of micronutrient accumulation in the flour.”
“But varieties like DSV Champion, Theodore and Oxford are successful because they meet producers’ needs today – high yield, strong disease resistance and good untreated yields.”
According to DSV’s Sarah Hawthorne, DSV Theodore is the only variety on the latest RL to get a 9 for septoria resistance, plus it has a 9 for yellow rust and an 8 for brown rust.
“DSV Champion combines a similar comprehensive disease package with outstanding untreated yield and real world versatility and it looks like DSV Oxford is following in the same mould.
“With a high level of versatility and consistency of production, DSV Oxford performs to its full potential in both higher input systems and more regenerative ones.”
Overall UK average yield for DSV Oxford sits at 103.7% of control with particularly strong performance seen in the West at 105%, but an untreated yield of 86% underlines its in-built resilience too, she explains.
“It’s a strong, well structured wheat standing at 84.6cm without PGRs so it’s going to be a tough contender in the more variable growing conditions now prevalent in the UK plus it is likely to be an easy harvester, too.
“Good grain quality and strong agronomic performance are particular features with
orange wheat blossom midge resistance and a dependable package of genetics delivering 6s for septoria and mildew resistance plus, importantly, an 8 for yellow rust.”