Evaluation of new varieties for sustainable cereal production in Europe: Final Report on a Post-Graduate Study Award from the Farmers Club Charitable Trust

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This report presents a range of issues important to plant breeding and variety evaluation as they relate to sustainable farming. In future, priorities for plant breeding will go way beyond established market criteria such as improving grain yield and quality. Wider social and environmental criteria (i.e. new market values) will become as important as economic considerations. Wide ecological adaptation – embracing tolerance to climatic stresses, enhanced genetic resistance to pests and diseases, and expansion of geographic adaptability – will be essential for future cereal crops. Sustainability criteria for breeders of new varieties include: (1) adaptation to, and mitigation against, climate change, (2) more resilient crops to ensure food security and (3) plant traits to reduce harmful environmental impacts of farming.

This study considers the role of cereal plant breeding in achieving sustainability criteria in arable farming. The value of a new variety depends on its combination of traits. At present, new varieties are defined according to their crop yield and grain quality, but they could also be rated in terms of their environmental or social value, which is notionally determined by the net value of financial return plus/minus the value of positive and negative external impacts. These impacts arise for example from the reduction of fungicide, herbicide and fertiliser use.

The main objectives in this study were:
1. to discuss with plant breeders their aims in developing new cereal varieties with wide ecological adaptation and attention to sustainability criteria,
2. to consider if sustainability traits with both established and new (public good) market values could be incorporated into future variety selection and testing,
3. to outline approaches for evaluating the cost-benefits of selecting new varieties and their subsequent adoption.

The public good role of agriculture is increasingly emphasised in discourse on sector sustainability including commitments on climate change mitigation, soil and water quality improvement and biodiversity conservation. In this context, the development of new varieties will increasingly face the challenge of demonstrating financial benefits while contributing to the management of good and bad external impacts.

This work was made possible through a series of meetings with plant breeders in Saaten Union in Germany (Saaten Union HQ; Strube Research, Nordsaat Saatzucht; Ackermann Saatzucht) and France (Saaten Union Recherche SAS). Prior to discussions, each breeder was presented with an outline of key topics and questions about their work and ideas on the future of variety selection and testing. The content of this report presents a broad view of plant breeding in Europe.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherFarmers Club Charitable Trust
Number of pages38
Publication statusPrint publication - Aug 2010


  • Cereals
  • Europe
  • Varieties
  • Sustainable
  • Farming
  • Breeding
  • Plant breeders
  • Germany
  • France
  • Saaten Union


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