26 May 1995

French all set to enjoy benefits of hybrid wheat

By Robert Harris

HYBRID wheat seed will be available to French farmers this autumn, and the UK may not be far behind.

The launch in France follows the success of two hybrid varieties in official registration trials last summer. Seed is now being multiplied for autumn sowing.

Paris-based breeder Hybrinova expects to sell 3000-4000ha (10,000 acres) worth of breadmaking variety Hyno-Precia seed. Rival company Hybritech, from Lescar, hopes 5000ha (12,500 acres) of feed wheat Sextant will be grown next year.

10% more yield

Hybrid vigour means that Hyno-Precia yields 10% more than other quality wheats, says the firms general manager, Alain Gervais. But Mr Gervais admits that it needs fertile sites and high inputs to approach this feed-type output. Some of the further four varieties in official trials will suit poorer soils, he adds.

Sextant does well on most soils, with yields 8-15% above conventional types, says Hybritechs director Philippe Caisting.

The variety is highly resistant to brown and yellow rust and mildew, which should cut down on fungicide costs, he adds. The company is currently conducting market tests with the variety on 250 farms to monitor inputs and performance.

Another Hybritech hybrid variety is expected to gain full registration this summer, with two others close behind.

The hybrids are produced by cross-pollination. Wheat flowers contain both male and female sex organs, so self-pollination has to be prevented.

Alternating strips

Parent varieties are grown in alternating strips. A chemical agent is sprayed on to plants selected as the female parent several weeks before flowering. The chemical prevents the formation of pollen. The plants are fertilised instead by the neighbouring pollinator variety, and produce hybrid seed.

Hybrids will have a major impact on wheat production, Mr Gervais believes. As well as giving higher yields, quicker variety development allows breeders to better meet end-user needs. Better disease and herbicide resistance can also be introduced more easily than with conventional breeding, he says.

Successful UK trials

UK growers may not have to wait long to try hybrids for themselves. Hyno-Precia and another variety, Hyno-Rista did well in limited trials in Cambridgeshire last year, says Mr Gervais. They are being evaluated again this year. But it is too soon to comment further, he adds.

There are no plans to bring Sextant to the UK, as it is an early wheat suited to central France. But Mr Caisting hopes to have some more suitable ones in UK trials "within one or two years".

Seed price is about double conventional seed, between £94 and £119/ha (£38 and £48/acre) depending on seed rate for Hyno-Precia and about £12.50/ha more for Sextant. But higher yields will more than cover that, both companies maintain. &#42

&#8226 More yield – typically 10%.

&#8226 Faster variety development – 5-7 years compared with 10 for conventional types – means easier to breed for:

Disease resistance.

Particular soils and climates.

Specific markets.

&#8226 Better payback to breeders – farm-saved seed not possible – more money for research.

&#8226 More seed growers needed.