OSR Recommended List trials revamp

A massive surge in the numbers of new winter oilseed rape varieties being offered to farmers has persuaded the HGCA to rejig its Recommended List testing programme.

While denying that the £200,000 a year budget for testing oilseed rape had been broken and that the levy growers pay for trials might be need to be increased, HGCA subsidiary CEL chairman Ben Miflin acknowledged it had been “dented”.

The answer had been an adjustment to the testing protocol to ensure the system provided valuable advice to growers, said RL manager Jim McVittie.

The wheat RL had a huge impact on growing the crop in the UK, said Dr McVittie. “We’re not influencing people in oilseed rape to the same extent,” he admitted. “Plant breeders have been very active and are bringing large numbers of new varieties forward.”

In 1985 there had been just 30 varieties in National List and RL trials, he noted. “Now there are 80 in NL1 alone.” To add to the problem many were being marketed before being recommended.

The speed of progress was threatening to overwhelm the testing system. The evaluation committee had had to recommend some recent hybrid varieties when it knew from NL trials that some very much better ones were already available, he pointed out.

The answer had been to raise the hurdle for oilseed rape varieties entering RL trials this autumn.

Instead of having to surpass a number of only fully recommended varieties, their NL performance would also have to outstrip those already soon to be provisionally recommended, Dr McVittie said.

Trialling oilseed rape was much trickier than trialling wheat, he added.

“We see big differences in performance from year to year and from region to region.” The loss of several northern trials this season was typical of the challenges faced in providing growers with useful information to help them decide which varieties to sow.