Hybrids and Holls: 15 years of oilseed rape development

Oilseed rape varieties that offer high yields combined with healthy price premiums for food-quality oils are the future of the industry, according to one leading plant breeder.

Growers are battling to keep a lid on costs, cope without neonicotinoid seed treatments  and counter increasing disease issues and weed problems to keep their crop profitable.

Geoff Hall of seed breeder Monsanto believes high oleic low linoleic acid (Holl) varieties open up an exciting market for growers and he expects the whole of the market to shift in this direction.

“Farmers still see oilseed rape as a really important crop but the way it is grown in the future will change, with Holl varieties having a lot of potential,” he says.

Chart showing hybrid oilseed rape development

These Holl varieties were introduced in 2006 with Monsanto’s conventional variety Splendor to supply crushers with a more versatile high-quality food-grade oil.

Now, Mr Hall says the latest addition to the 2015-16 Recommended List, Monsanto’s V316OL, represents a huge step forward in quality and yield, which could prove crucial.

He points out growers have shown great confidence in oilseed rape this year despite lower rapeseed prices and escalating costs, with a predicted 640,000ha in the ground for harvest 2015.

Monsanto’s oilseed rape breeder, Matthew Clarke says growers are increasingly looking for more reliable varieties to reduce risk and says hybrids help achieve this.

He adds that this season has emphasised the importance of good establishment and rooting, which can be improved with early drilling and vigorously rooting hybrid varieties.

The virtues of V316OL

The variety V316OL from the breeder Monsanto tops the East/West region on the HGCA Recommended List 2015-16 for gross output at 109% while also producing an oil that is high in oleic and low in linoleic acid (Holl) that can give growers a potential premium of £25-35/t.

“There have been big changes in the past 15 years in the way oilseed rape has been grown and the varieties have had to keep up with this, and must continue to do so,” he says.

Since 2000, there has been an increase of at least 75% in the annual planted area of oilseed rape, with an average annual gain in the leading variety of 0.09t/ha.

Meanwhile, hybrids have steadily grown their market share to stand at about 56% of the total crop, with Monsanto accounting for about 40% of the overall market of conventional and hybrid varieties.

Mr Clarke points out that progress in yield, oil contents, oil qualities and disease resistance are some of the key drivers for new varieties.

Every extra 0.5t/ha of yield cuts growing costs by £10-15/t, while every 1% above 40% oil is a bonus of 1.5% on the rapeseed price.

“Making small improvements can see big benefits and help growers maintain and build on their margins,” he says.

Mr Clarke adds that improving disease resistance will be another key factor in keeping the crop profitable, with each spray operation amounting to £7-10/ha, even before the cost of pesticides is added.

“Hybrids offer much more scope to improve. We can build on our yield-protecting traits and keep the farmer one step ahead,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mr Hall says notable changes in how oilseed rape has been grown have increased output but also left less margin for error.

“The crop has advanced from being primarily a break crop in cereal rotations to one of a main crop,” he says.

Crops are now sprayed six or seven times, compared with three or four, and receive seed rates much lower than the 6-7kg/ha used 15 years ago. Many growers have also switched to min-till or single-pass establishment.

Mr Hall says growers must make some bold decisions and look at where the money is being spent on their crop.

“It won’t be necessarily be about spending less, but making sure you are spending in the right areas and getting the best value,” he explains.

The company will be launching its “state-of-the-art guide” early next year to make help growers get the most from hybrid oilseed rape varieties.