While the majority of agronomic factors (seeds, fungicides, fertilisers, herbicides, growth regulators, ploughing, insecticides) are subject to criticism and serious questioning, the diversity and robustness of cereal varieties remain a key tool in facing the challenges of tomorrow.
For most people, "variety" is a scientific term meaning "some kind of". For others it is synonymous with the concept of species. And others, the vegetable garden or good food lovers, are familiar with the agronomic meaning through Conference pears or Lambada strawberries.
As for the term "registration", this refers to a list of varieties authorised for marketing. Inclusion on this list is determined by success in tests and agronomic trials. For cereals grown in Belgium, these tests are carried out jointly by the ILVO and CRA-W.
The number of cereal varieties is constantly increasing. Dozens of varieties are registered in Europe every year. The goal of the research into cereal variety is not to find a variety that satisfies the taste of consumers, but to sustain the fruitful varieties while increasing the levels of tolerance and resistance in plants.
Each year, we are confronted with new insects, which are migrating to higher latitudes due to rising temperatures. Fungi, bacteria and viruses are continually mutating, enabling them to overcome the resistance of plant varieties. They also board planes, boats and trains, rapidly colonising vast areas.
At the same time, there is an increasing desire to reduce the number of crop protection products.
We have recently entered a new era of climate change. With droughts occurring in rainy areas, temperatures of 19°C at Christmas and -5°C on 20 April, many extraordinary events have become commonplace, and are affecting our crops. Resilience has become a buzzword, but plants have very limited resilience and crop failures are increasing.
The only real alternative that will not affect our health or the environment is to create and regenerate a wide range of suitable varieties. Once the varieties are registered, there is then the task of determining which variety will be most suitable for each situation. The destination of the end product, the growing region, the farming practices, the soil and its history are all factors that will influence the choice of farmers. To help them, the CRA-W and its partners are setting up so-called "post-registration" trials. The CRA-W is currently renovating and developing trial networks, favouring low-input pipelines. The White Paper is still the reference standard for cereal farmers, but this has also undergone a drastic facelift: the drafting of recommended lists now enables farmers to see the value of choosing more tolerant varieties that reduce the need for chemical protection products.
Oat and triticale networks have now been established to enable farmers to diversify. These are being added to existing networks (wheat, spelt and barley).
If you would like to know more about this subject, join us at the trial visits organised each year during May and June.