Project outline

About the Project

Rationale for Oilseed Rape Genetic Improvement in the UK

Oilseed rape (OSR; Brassica napus) is the main break crop in the cereal rotation, and is grown on an increasing area of UK arable land. Recent annual area increases from 557,000 ha to 750,000 ha have resulted from reform of the C.A.P. and release of set-aside, as well as increased profitability due to world price rises. The latter has arisen in part from European and worldwide market demands for OSR-derived bio-diesel to meet the 2010 EU Renewable Fuel Objective.

Significant environmental footprint

OSR cultivation imposes a significant environmental footprint with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions equivalent to 166,937 t CO2 p.a., of which 83% is associated with the manufacture and application of N fertiliser. OSR makes a large contribution to the 'nitrogen economy', with the crop receiving a greater rate of nitrogen (N) fertiliser (average 207 kg/ha) than almost any other arable crop when the N off-take is only 96 kg N/ha.

As a result, during a typical arable rotation, the winter after an OSR crop often results in the highest level of N leaching. This is of particular concern since the majority of OSR is grown in nitrate vulnerable zones, with the crop contributing to diffuse pollution that can affect water quality. Moreover, the increasing OSR acreage in the wheat rotation extends the difficulties of restricting phosphate and nitrate efflux to water across a major proportion of the UK arable land area. UK arable crop production systems, and OSR in particular, will need to be able to adapt to the potential introduction of financial instruments associated with the EU water framework directive, other soil management regulations and mitigation measures for GHG emissions.

Production of new crop cultivars

There is a strong case to focus efforts on the production of new crop cultivars with improved properties based on genetic research as a means of delivering strategic objectives and measurable changes in the environmental footprint of agricultural production. Crop breeding and exploitation of new, improved cultivars is recognised as an efficient and effective means of delivering public goods that reduce the environmental footprint of arable farming systems.

The Stern report and a recent Defra-commissioned review (IF0101) both highlighted the fact that, in terms of input investment vs output, new cultivars significantly outperform other research activities. The Stern report highlighted in its summary the need for research investment in climate-resilient crops to address adaptation to climate change and the vital role that publicly-funded crop genetic improvement has to play in the future.