Hybrid varieties of Winter Oilseed Rape

Oilseed rape is one of the most important crops currently grown in Europe[1]. It is estimated that the area grown across Europe amounts to circa. 6-6,5 million ha[1]. The three largest producer countries: France, Germany and Poland grow over 50% of this total area (3,6 million ha).

For many years geneticists have been working to increase yields, oil content and resistance to other factors detrimental to oilseed rape yields. In 1968 Ogura, a Japanese scientist published his research results regarding the Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS) in Japanese radish[2]. From this research, European scientists developed the CMS Ogura system in oilseed rape breeding, using inter-species crosses and repeated backcrossing[3]. The introduction of the CMS system to oilseed rape provided new opportunities in breeding resulting in the modern hybrid varieties, those demonstrating  heterosis, more commonly referred to as hybrid vigour: the improved performance of a given trait in the first generation in comparison to that of the parents.

Hybrid varieties have been present on the Polish market for over 15 years. Kleffmann Group data recorded the first Oilseed Rape hybrid variety in 2001, since then that number has grown to nearly 150 varieties, identified in this year’s survey.

The number of hybrid varieties recorded in the Kleffman research survey data in the last few years is almost twice the number of conventional varieties. (Graph 1). This reflects the ratio between the 

number of hybrid varieties to that of  conventional varieties registered in the National Lists of Varieties kept by COBORU., Out of 128 varieties of oilseed rape registered, 89 are hybrids[4].

The availability of such a large number of hybrid varieties strongly affects the proportion of the total crop area grown.  In Poland hybrid varieties account for just over two thirds of the Oilseed Rape area grown, in most other European countries that level is closer to, or exceeds, nine tenths.

In Bulgaria and Romania, hybrid varieties account for the total area of oilseed rape grown (Graph 2). This is due to the fact that in these two countries the adoption of winter oilseed rape started with the development of good hybrid varieties, as well as the fact that seed companies then only offered hybrid varieties.  In Great Britain the variability of seasonal growing conditions which create challenges in establishment related to soil moisture, and pest pressure in the light of the ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments, all bring into question the merits of hybrids. With hybrid seed being at a premium over conventional varieties, growers are reluctant to load additional costs onto a crop that may not make it through the autumn. Whether conventional varieties or hybrids, each has to germinate and establish initially before any differentiation in yields or other hybrid characteristics can be observed.

Hybrid varieties, compared to conventional ones, most importantly produce higher yields. In the Post-Registration Variety Testing System (PDO) in 2016 hybrids’ average yield was 40,7 dt/ha, whereas conventional varieties’ average yield was 36,0 dt/ha[5]. An improvement in average yield of 13% compared to conventional varieties.  When comparing the most productive conventional variety in the PDO study – SY Rokas - with the top-yielding hybrid variety, in the same study, – Kuga -, the hybrid yield is 17% greater. Other traits such as specific disease resistance, oil content, protein content or winter-hardiness, are on average the same for both hybrid and conventional varieties.

Hybrid varieties are not without issue. The largest issue, from the farmer’s point of view is the price of such seed. Farmers’ declared prices show hybrid seed varieties are twice the price of conventional ones[6]. In addition, in order to exploit the hybrid varieties’ maximal yielding potential, the crop must be properly managed to ensure the plants are provided with all necessary macro- and micro-nutrients in appropriate quantity and proportion, as well as applying a full programme of disease, insect and weed protection. All these elements make growing hybrids , potentially more expensive than growing conventional varieties.

Will these hybrid varieties’ improved performance compensate for the higher price of the seed or will the cold-hearted production cost calculation draw farmers’ attention to the conventional varieties?  

The future will certainly show the direction the market of hybrids development and the Kleffmann Group will keep observing and reporting these changes.


[1] The area refers to the sum of areas for Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Rumania, Sweden and Slovakia. Source: amis®seed.

[2] Ogura H. (1968) Studies on the new male-sterility in Japanese radish, with special reference to the utilization of this sterility towards the practical raising of hybrid seeds. Mem. Fac. Agric. Kagoshima Univ.

[3] Heyn F.W. (1976) Transfer of restorer genes from Raphanus to cytoplasmic male sterile Brassica napus. Cruciferae Newslett.

[4] http://www.coboru.pl/Polska/Rejestr/gat_w_rej.aspx

[5] http://www.coboru.pl/DR/porownanieodmian.aspx

[6] Source: amis®seed