New Polish-type canola varieties are closing the yield gap
By Bruce Barker
For farmers ravaged by frost on late-seeded Argentine (Brassica napus) canola, these new Polish-type (B. rapa) canola varieties might have saved the day in 2010. With maturity much earlier than the Argentine counterparts, these synthetic Polish canola varieties also carry significantly higher yield than previous Polish canolas. “The new synthetic varieties have better yield than the older open-pollinated Polish canola varieties and are a lot closer to Argentine yields,” says Dr. Kevin Falk, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) plant breeder who leads the Polish canola breeding program.
Falk was a pioneer of synthetic canola in Canada, first with his thesis work in the mid-1980s, then with ICI Seeds in Winnipeg, where he developed Canada’s first synthetic Polish canola, and has been with AAFC since 1992. One of his first varieties, Hysn 110, lasted until a few years ago. Since he has been at AAFC, Falk and his retired colleague, Dr. Don Woods, have released two other varieties, AC Sunbeam and ACS-C7. These, in turn, are being replaced by three new synthetic Polish varieties from AAFC: Synergy, Early One and ACS-C29. These varieties are 10 to 15 percent higher yielding than AC Sunbeam and ACS-C7.
Challenging ground for plant breeders
Polish canola presents challenges to plant breeders, because it does not self-pollinate. In scientific terms, it is an obligate outcrosser; that is, it does not have a choice but to cross with another canola plant. However, Falk has found that by mixing more than one parent line together in a variety, these parent lines outcross with each other, and provide some level of “hybrid” kick. When two parent lines are mixed together, theoretically 50 percent of the commercial seed produced is from crossed seed and therefore hybrid, while 25 percent is from Parent A and 25 percent from Parent B. “The mixing of parent lines into synthetic Certified seed gives better performance than just the two parents could provide. This is a phenomenon that isn’t completely understood, but we see higher yields and improved yield stability from synthetics,” explains Falk.
Falk has taken synthetic canola even further with ACS-C29. It is the first three-parent synthetic of its kind in Canada. The three parents provide an even greater level of stability in the field.
The AAFC Polish breeding program is based out of Beaverlodge, Alberta, where one part-time and three full-time employees work in the program. Falk supervises it from Saskatoon, where he was initially based before taking over the Polish breeding program from Dr. Don Woods. While the initial research is done at Beaverlodge, promising varieties are tested throughout the Peace region and as far east as Saskatoon.
True hybridization is the next step in Falk’s breeding program. He is working with a pollination control system and believes that hybridization is the key to closing the yield gap with Argentine canola even further. The Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission and the Peace River Grain Industry Development Council support the work. “If we could get to within 15 percent yield of Argentine canola, we would be very happy with that,” says Falk.
Although Argentine canola occupies approximately 90 percent of the total canola acres on the Prairies, estimates suggest that 25 percent of the acreage would be better suited to Polish types. Polish type canola matures 10 to 14 days earlier in a normal year, and even earlier in a year like 2010 with a cool, wet summer. The pods of Polish canola are more shatter resistant, making it suitable for straight combining, and it is typically more drought tolerant,as well.
Bob Mastin runs Mastin Seeds at Sundre, Alberta, and has the distribution rights to two of the three new AAFC synthetic Polish lines, Early One and ACS-C29. In 2010, he seeded the certified production field of Early One at the end of May, 31 days later than an early Argentine hybrid canola. He ended up swathing Early One three days before the Argentine canola. While he did not have it combined at press time, he was expecting 40 bushels per acre from Early One.
Mastin will have Early One seed available for the 2011 growing season, but ACS-C29 will not be available until 2012. He says he picked up the two synthetic varieties because they fit his business plan of distributing both new and older varieties that can be either niche marketed, or resurrected on a larger scale.
SeCan will distribute the variety Synergy (or as tested ACS-C12). Seed may be available in 2012.
The AAFC breeding program also incorporates disease resistance into its varieties, with a focus on brown girdling root rot, blackleg and white rust (staghead). While Falk acknowledges that weed control is a disadvantage of the varieties because they do not carry any herbicide-tolerant traits, he says he has had little luck in trying to convince any of the companies to work with him on developing herbicide-tolerant Polish canola. “Breeding synthetics has its challenges, especially working with multiple parent lines, but the Polish breeding program goes back 30 years, so we have a lot of parent lines to work with,” says Falk. “I think there is a place for Polish canola, especially as we close the yield gap.”