11 December 2020

New technologies serving the improvement of variety

The CRA-W and ILVO are applying their expertise to innovations in the assessment of new varieties in Europe

Assessing a new plant line involves collecting extensive data before it can be registered as a variety. Some traits are easy to assess; others are more laborious or require advanced skills. This is where new technology could be of great help to assessors.

Among the data collected during the registration process, that which is obtained through DHS and VCU examinations can be distinguished. The purpose of the DHS examination is to ensure that the new line is Distinct from the varieties already registered, that individuals are Homogeneous and that it is Stable from generation to generation. This examination is based on essentially visual features such as the shape, length or colour of the plant organs. The VCU examination assesses the Cultural Value and the Use of the new line. Its purpose is to assess the performance of a line in terms of yield, resistance to various stress factors and technological quality in comparison with the varieties already registered. All these criteria are considered according to observation protocols and well-defined measuring procedures within the framework of examinations by official bodies, these being the CRA-W and ILVO in the case of Belgium.

In order to participate in the development of assessment methods, the CRA-W and ILVO became involved in the European INVITE project on 1 July 2019. The aim of this project is to promote the introduction of new varieties resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, which are adapted to sustainable management practices and demonstrate efficient use of resources. One of the approaches chosen as part of the project is the development of new phenotyping instruments in both the visible and invisible regions, to provide indicators of adaptation to stress and to improve the speed, precision and efficiency of observation when assessing varieties. Another approach is to work with historical data in order to predict the performance of a variety according to the environmental growing conditions and the farming methods.

As part of this project, the CRA-W teams are working to determine the properties of different varieties of wheat and apple on-site using handheld and imaging instruments, visible and near infrared, for the ground measurements. Evaluation trials on cereal varieties and collections of genetic resources of apples are used to support this research. There is particular focus on investigating the use of hyperspectral sensors to study the susceptibility of winter wheat varieties to fusarium head blight disease and the quality of apples in orchards. On the ILVO side, the use of drone-mounted RGB cameras to study height and biomass in ryegrass and maize is being explored. The most promising phenotyping methods developed by the project partners can subsequently be assessed directly in trial networks. Historical data from 10 years of varietal assessment will also be shared with the project partners in order to calibrate predictive models.

The synergy between the different CRA-W and ILVO teams will undoubtedly make it possible to combine multiple skills and thus bring innovation to existing protocols for the assessment of varieties by examination authorities. This will also make it possible to propose new organisational patterns to improve variety testing networks, taking the socio-economic and environmental impact into consideration.

The INVITE project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 817970.