This blog has kindly been written by James Fortune who is an HKEP PhD student at University of Hertfordshire investigating the interactions between Leptosphaeria maculans (phoma stem canker) and Pyrenopeziza brassicae (light leaf spot) on Brassica napus (oilseed rape).
I attended the Young Innovators’ forum visit to RAGT Seeds on 27 May in Ickleton nr, Cambridge. The event started with a warm welcome and introduction about the company by Dr Cathy Hooper, technical sales manager, and Mr Tom Dummett, OSR & Cereals Manager. They explained the name RAGT is an acronym of four regions in southern France, Rouergue, Auvergne, Gevaudan and Tarnais, from where the company has is origins; it is from these origins that the company’s key morals were outlined as a company “Run by farmers for farmers”; this was highlighted when Dr Hooper told us that the founding families still remain shareholders on the company’s board.
We moved over to the wheat variety trial plots where Dr Hooper and Mr Dummett provided an overview of how they whittle down over 2 million progeny of a cross to less than 10 varieties using high-throughput sequencing, using QTL’s (quantitative trait loci) that is a region of DNA that is associated with a particular phenotypic trait, ie disease resistance. In addition to these high throughput molecular methods, the company uses vernalisation cabinets and single seed descent analysis in controlled conditions to enable them to produce multiple generations of a crop to within a typical 10 month growing season. It is this ability to speed up the breeding process to develop new varieties ready to be placed into national list testing within 5-8 years. The national list testing is a legal requirement for new plant varieties if you would like to market them for commercial purposes. This is to ensure that crops are; Distinct – it has different characteristics to other varieties, Uniform – all plants in the variety must share the same characteristics, and Stable – it remains unchanged after ‘repeated propagation’. If the variety passes through the national list testing then it can be sold as a commercial variety, a cultivar. Every year the AHDB produces a list of cultivars that it recommends, and this is very important as cultivars on this list form a majority of the seed sales for the following season, therefore it is of great economic importance for breeders to get their new cultivars on the list, so the most promising new cultivars are entered into AHDB recommended list trials for assessment against other cultivars on the list for where a panel of experts and stakeholders in the agricultural community will decide whether the new cultivar offers something new, or performs well enough to warrant a place on the recommended list. We also received information about the different groups of wheat and their intended uses for example RAGT’s variety Skyfall that is a Group 1 wheat meaning that it will produce consistent milling and baking performance.
We then moved onto the main reason for my visit; to see RGT Wolverine – Europe’s first BYDV resistant wheat. I was not disappointed. We were able to go into the field trial and look at plots of RGT Wolverine against other more susceptible commercially available wheat cultivars. It was here that the strength and power of this cultivar was truly showcased. The plots of RGT Wolverine were visually more uniform in height because the comparison cultivar plots were undulated with areas of stunting. Mr Dummett showcased the severity of the BYDV in the more susceptible comparison cultivar plots that showed the yellowing-red of lower leaves in comparison to the much cleaner and disease-free leaves of RGT Wolverine. This was one of the benefits of going to see these plot trials at events like this the Young Innovators’ forum visit to RAGT Seeds as it gives you the opportunity to see these differences in the flesh and the trust that the comparison leaves and plants have not been cherry picked or exaggerated. These differences were seen at GS 39, so I would imagine that they would be starker when the wheat is in ear. Seeing the differences in BYDV severity showcased how important this breakthrough is for European plant breeding. This will not only allow growers to save on the chemical costs by reducing their insecticide applications on the farm, it will also be more desirable to millers and the end user due to reduced chemical residues and a more environmentally sustainable method of wheat production. This exemplifies the company focus on ensuring innovation ambition and a spirit of competition to remain ahead of the game.
We finished the visit by looking at the demonstration plots of the cover crops and the differences. There were many different compositions and mixes, but the main overriding message was to select the correct cover crop for your land you need to identify what the desired outcome you want to achieve is. For example you wouldn’t use the same cover crop mix to increase the nitrogen, using nodulating crops, as you would to deter insect pests, using biofumigants, as you would to reduce weeds, using fast growing and area covering plants that would die off after a cold winter. The benefits of using cover crops was displayed when viewing another of the trial plots that had previously used as cover crop trial area. This new field trial design had been sown over the previous trial plant and there were clear distinguished separation within this new field plot design showing benefits of the previous cover cropping.
Overall, this event was very beneficial for me as I was able to directly observe how knowledge is translated from research to the agricultural industry and provided me with real inspiration for my own research to understand how a break though in the lab, such as identification of a QTL for BYDV resistance can have such a large impact on the European industry like new innovations such as RGT Wolverine. Additionally, it was my first opportunity to meet new people and network with fellow individuals with an interest in the UK agricultural industry from outside my research group since the COVID – 19 pandemic.
I would like to thank Dr Cathy Hooper and Mr Tom Dummett from RAGT Seeds Ltd for taking the time to organise such a smooth, informative and interesting event. I look forward to attending more Young Innovators’ forum visits and events in the future.
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