Date: 10.10.2023

...was the topic of the press briefing 2023 of Deutsche Saatveredelung AG (DSV). At the DSV seed breeding station in Asendorf (near Bremen), the company presented the latest innovations from breeding, topics relating to soil and the results of the CATCHY research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to representatives of the press.

"Managing agriculture successfully between 'drought and heavy rain' posed special challenges for farmers in 2023. Adapted, yield-stable varieties and healthy soil are essential key factors for sustainable and economical agricultural production. As plant breeders, we provide the solutions for this," Dr Eike Hupe, DSV Board Member, opened the press briefing. "We offer new varieties that are better adapted to the changed conditions such as drought, extended vegetation periods and heat and are more resistant to diseases and pests. Likewise, our advice focuses on the soil - among other things, it is about stabilising soil fertility and improving the water retention capacity in the soil. DSV has been very active in these topics for a long time," says Hupe. On the one hand, the company has been offering the "DSV Soil Round Trip" annually for several years: At almost 20 locations, not only in Germany, DSV and renowned soil experts advise farmers on site about the complex interrelationships of the soil system and offer practical solutions. On the other hand, DSV is involved in various research projects. One of these is the CATCHY research project "Intercrops as an agronomic measure to maintain soil fertility and yield security".

Variety development for the arable farming system of the future

"Disease and pest resistance, optimised agronomic traits, tolerance to abiotic stress and nutrient efficiency, these are the pillars of yield security that modern varieties should bring," agree Sebastian Hötte and Linda Hahn (DSV Product Manager Rapeseed | Cereals and Grain Legumes). On more than 1,200 hectares, site-adapted, healthy and resource-efficient varieties for the needs of international markets and a wide range of climatic conditions are bred at nine DSV seed breeding stations across Europe. The successes of many years of DSV cereal breeding can be seen, among other things, in resistance to yield-relevant viruses and pests. For example, the multi-row winter barley FASCINATION is resistant to the barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV), shows good leaf health and straw stability as well as very high yields (highest yield value number (EWZ) in the multi-row range 2021-2023). Another breeding success is the variety JULIA. It is resistant to barley yellow mosaic virus (BaYMV) and ranked first in the German state variety trials (line varieties) this year. DSV Wheat Breeding is equally successful with the varieties DEBIAN and EXSAL, which have a resistance gene (Sm1) against the orange wheat gall midge.

The successes of rapeseed breeding can be seen, among other things, in the cabbage hernia segment: the yield capacity of cabbage hernia-resistant rapeseed varieties has been significantly increased in recent years. The new variety CROMAT, marketed in Germany by RAPOOL-Ring GmbH, is resistant to cabbage hernia and at the same time produces above-average yields.

Another disease in winter oilseed rape that has a strong negative impact on yield is Phoma Lingam, the root neck and stem rot. Here, breeding has succeeded in identifying a new effective combination of Phoma Lingam resistance genes. In Germany, a variety with this phoma resistance combination - the phoma blocker - is due for approval next year and will thus probably be the first variety with this resistance combination on the German market. In France, the first varieties with this trait have already been approved for DSV.

Understanding the intricacies of the soil system

"The best conditions in terms of soil life can only be found in nature. Any intervention by land management results in a reduction of the same," says Dr Gernot Bodner from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. "A healthy ecosystem naturally has a broad buffer to absorb extremes," he states. The goal of agricultural use must be to get as close as possible to the optimal, natural conditions. Humus in agriculturally used land plays a decisive role in this. The microbiome is very complex. Those who understand how to nourish it properly can take advantage of many benefits to counteract weather extremes.

The CATCHY research project: The results of nine years of research work

DSV has been a partner in the CATCHY research project for nine years. The project is part of the BonaRes initiative, "Soil as a Sustainable Resource for the Bioeconomy" and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In addition to DSV, microbiologists from Bremen, soil scientists from Hanover, plant nutritionists from Gatersleben, plant farmers from Triesdorf and socio-economists from Gießen are involved in the project. DSV was able to contribute its many years of experience with the cultivation of cover crops and the compilation of intelligent mixtures for cover crop cultivation to the project.

"In this long-term project, which is now being concluded, the effect of intercropping in the form of individual components and mixtures was investigated in crop rotation trials in comparison to fallow, focusing on soil structure and quality, microbiome, nutrient and water balance, yield effect and profitability," explains Dr Matthias Westerschulte, Team Leader Product Management Biodiversity at DSV.

Through the CATCHY project, new scientific knowledge was gained for the diverse effects of intercropping in crop production systems and thus the understanding of their effect was significantly improved. This enables the further optimisation of intercropping management. "It has been shown that the use of mixtures and the resulting increased diversity leads to more resilience in the crop production system," says Westerschulte. Importantly, this added value can only be achieved through continuous integration into the cropping system.

"In view of the diverse crop production challenges in the coming decades, however, the use of cover crops can only be one measure to develop resilient crop production systems," Westerschulte is certain. The key lies in the holistic promotion of soil health as the basis for healthy crop stands. To achieve this, it will be necessary to actively green the soil as much as possible throughout, to reduce interventions in the soil as much as possible and to increase diversity in the system - in short: to create evergreen, biodiverse crop rotations.

The basis is wide crop rotations with appropriately placed cover crops. In addition, the transitions between the crops should be as smooth as possible and the diversity within the main crops as high as possible. This can also be achieved by using side and undersown crops as well as mixed crop systems, with which the farmer can put together individual farm solutions according to the modular principle. This offers enormous potential for optimising microbiome interactions, soil structure and quality, as well as nutrient and water balance. In the long term, this can help to secure yields and profitability in arable farming adapted to the location.

Feeding the microbiome properly with plant communities

Protecting the soil, increasing the humus content and promoting soil life is also what DSV's TerraLife® brand programme has stood for - for more than a decade. "We are continuously developing the programme based on the new CATCHY results from a pure intercropping programme to complete greening systems," explains Jan-Hendrik Schulz, Biodiversity Product Manager at DSV. He sees diverse, intelligent and, as far as possible, permanent greening of the arable system as the best solution for economic and sustainable agriculture. "We have to feed the soil microbiome properly within the crop rotation. In this way, a resilient soil helps us to better withstand weather extremes and to farm sustainably," he pleads.  

"Both the successes of plant breeding and the acquisition of knowledge about the establishment of functioning crop rotation systems and their effect on soil fertility are lengthy processes," said Dr Eike Hupe at the end of the event. "Breeding progress, the development and distribution of innovative, adapted and high-yielding varieties are the focus of our activities. Our breeders are already working today on the trait combinations that we will need in 2035 so that farmers can continue to produce economically in the future. Likewise, we see ourselves as innovators in the development of new cropping systems that keep soil fertility in mind. The scientific results of the CATCHY project confirm that we are on the right path, which we embarked upon more than 10 years ago, of using the agronomic advantages of intelligent species combinations for modern agriculture. Because: Soil is one of the most important resources for mankind to secure food."

DSV is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and has been contributing to soil health and thus to the sustainable success of agriculture since its foundation with down-to-earthness and foresight, with healthy and high-yielding varieties and intelligent greening systems. DSV stands for research, breeding, production and sales from a single source: with around 800 employees in 8 subsidiaries worldwide, DSV today achieves a turnover of around 250 million euros. The focus is on grasses and fodder legumes, rape, maize, cereals and cover crops.