DON’T WRITE off hybrid oilseed rape varieties, urges NK Seeds’s Nigel Padbury.

His message comes as Dalgety estimates that winter hybrids, which accounted for nearly one-fifth of national sowings in 2000, represent less than 10% of this season’s crop.

 None of the candidates up for HGCA 2005 recommendation next month are hybrids. “Hybrid varieties are looking decidedly tired in performance terms compared with the current generation of high yielding and easier-to-manage conventionals,” says Dalgety”s Barry Barker.

The firm”s estimates include both certified and farm-saved seed sowings, he says.

Alongside conventional variety Winner, which leads the market with a 29% share, so-called low biomass types like Caracas and newcomers Castille and Lioness have steadily eaten into the hybrids” share.

But there is still a place for hybrids like Royal and Toccata, especially in the north, where their vigour in countering adverse conditions attracts a core of enthusiastic growers, says Mr Padbury.

“We’ve had growers doing up to 5.9t/ha with Royal.”

The 2003 summer drought unfairly penalised hybrids, preventing them from fulfilling their potential, he believes. “Vigour can’t overcome lack of water. But one dry summer won’t kill them off.”

Mr Barker says new genetics are required. “What hybrids really need is an injection of fresh, high performance, high reliability blood.” That could be around the corner in Excalibur, a Monsanto hybrid which entered Recommended List trials this season, he suggests. “On limited trials data to date, it yields 7-8% more than Winner and is shorter.”