RAGT to launch BYDV-resistant wheat

RAGT Seeds is to launch an elite winter wheat variety with a high level of resistance to barley yellow dwarf virus to the UK market next autumn, offering farmers an alternative to chemical control for the first time.

Under high BYDV pressure in the Lincs trial RGT Wolverine (left) had significantly fewer symptoms compared with the control varieties.

The introduction of RGT Wolverine* marks a major breakthrough in European variety development and is particularly timely following the withdrawal in 2018 of neonicotinoid seed treatments for wheat, which has left growers relying on less effective insecticide sprays to control aphid vectors.

Crucially, the variety is capable of delivering exceptional yields even in the absence of BYDV and is backed by a strong agronomic package.

That means growers will not be penalised for choosing it in low-disease years, according to RAGT’s cereal and OSR product manager Tom Dummett, who spoke at the launch of RGT Wolverine on 2 September.

Addressing a capacity audience at the Wellcome Genome Campus near Cambridge, he said:

“RAGT is the first breeder in Europe to offer a BYDV-resistant wheat , and the trait is now successfully established in some of our elite material.”

“RGT Wolverine has yielded exceptionally well over five years of trials and is capable of competing with the likes of RGT Gravity and Skyscraper, even when there is no BYDV to be seen.”

RGT Wolverine’s resistance originates from a goat grass, Thinopyrum intermedium, a distant wheat relative. A genetic segment from Thinopyrum containing the resistance gene Bdv2 has been translocated onto a wheat chromosome via an Australian research line known as TC14.

“Difficulties in studying the pathogen hindered the development of a reliable genetic marker to identify the trait in breeding material. However, over the past 20 years, this has changed,” explained RAGT cereal geneticist John Baison.

Australia’s Commonweath Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is one of the very few breeding programmes in the world to have bred and released BYDV-resistant wheats.

Two CSIRO varieties, Manning and Mackellar, have maintained significantly higher yields compared with BYDV-susceptible varieties when BYDV pressure is high.

“Sixteen years after their release they still outperform all other varieties in this situation, said John. “This suggests the resistance is durable and gives us confidence to introduce it into the European market.”

Strong agronomics

RGT Wolverine, which is aimed at the Group 4 hard sector, is up for RL Candidate selection this autumn. Farmers will be able to try the variety in autumn 2020 following RAGT’s decision to fast-track seed production.The variety has a very good disease profile, particularly given it contains a new genetic trait, said Tom. “Often translocations can also bring with them undesirable traits, which can effect yield and quality, for example. After a breeding effort of more than 15 years, there are no signs of that with RGT Wolverine.”

Cost effective

RGT Wolverine offers a very cost-effective package when it comes to controlling BYDV, said Tom.“Farmers had been paying around £28/ha for neonicotinoid seed treatments that offered six weeks control, followed by a further £10.50 for an insecticide plus application costs for a couple more weeks protection – a total of £38.50/ha.“Now neonicotinoids have been withdrawn, farmers are paying around £31.50-£42/ha for a three- to four-spray insecticide programme that offers low to average control.“However, farmers purchasing RGT Wolverine will pay £33/ha for season-long protection, while reducing the need to monitor aphid populations and benefiting the environment.”The variety will be sold via the Breeders Intellectual Property Office (BIPO) system. This means the value of the trait will be charged directly to farmers on an area basis rather than by tonnage, Tom explained.

Fantastic news

Speaking at the event, independent consultant and former Velcourt technical director Keith Norman said: “This has been a very well-kept secret. I knew plant breeders were working on this but had no idea it was so close to commercial reality. It’s great to see RAGT has got there – it is fantastic news.”As well as the commercial benefits, using BYDV-resistant wheat will enable growers to reduce applications of insecticides, often made more difficult by adverse soil conditions and weather.Reduced spraying will also benefit the environment and beneficial insects. And growing resistant wheat will reduce the risk of virus after mild winters, Keith added.

Absolutely huge

Northamptonshire grower and RAGT Growers Club member Andrew Pitts said he was really looking forward to trying RGT Wolverine next season.“This autumn we are drilling later to reduce the number of pyrethroid sprays we will have to use. This will inevitably have an effect on seed cost and establishment, and we will still have to spray more times now we no longer have a seed treatment to control BYDV.“To have this difficult decision-making process taken away, hopefully on all the wheats we eventually grow, is absolutely huge and will make a massive difference to how we farm.”

*RGT Wolverine is not yet national listed. This article does not constitute an offer for sale.

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