27 October 1995

Genetic choice to be made

SHOULD novel genetic material be moved into existing crops like oilseed rape, to help them produce industrial products? Or should the original species be developed into a crop itself?

The choice breeders make could have a profound impact upon growers.

After screening 8000 plant species, useful sources of 300 different industrial oils have already been identified. The challenge now is to make the best use of that genetic material.

Melvyn Askew of ADAS Wolverhampton advocates crop development. "It may be slower, but it will be cheaper in the long run – transgenics are not cheap to develop. But we need to know what the market wants in 30 years time and that information just doesnt seem to be available."

Danger of contamination

Jo Bowman of Nickerson Seeds also wants individual crop development – to help keep crops separate during storage and marketing. "Contamination could be very, very serious. Its all right if everything is going into the food chain, but what happens if we mix industrial seed with food seed?"

Elaine Booth of SAC agrees, pointing out that large areas of oilseed rape grown for various industrial markets could raise the risk of pest and disease attack.

Volunteer control would also be a problem. Once a crop has been grown for one industrial market high seed losses at harvest could render a field unusable for other markets.

With that in mind, MAFF is investing £300,000 in a bid to reduce pod shatter. "Some farmers lose 10% of the seed at harvest, but the average is nearer 25%, commented a MAFFofficial.