Future of OP canola hinges on grower support

Key points

  • Some growers are concerned canola breeding companies are winding down the development of new open-pollinated (OP) canola varieties
  • To continue developing new OP varieties, canola breeders say they need growers to support the end point royalty (EPR) system, which requires the correct variety of canola to be declared when the grain is sold
  • One advantage of the EPR system is that canola breeding companies share the seasonal risks and rewards with growers with the level of their returns tied to production
  • National Variety Trials data and other GRDC-supported information is available to assist canola variety selection decisions 

With some canola breeding companies now only developing hybrid varieties, questions are being asked about the future for open-pollinated canola types

Image of canola in flower

OP varieties remain mostly stable across generations, which means growers can retain seed for successive plantings.

PHOTO: Brad Collis

The outcrossing nature of canola means the pollination of open-pollinated (OP) varieties does not rely on plant breeders but can be left to insects and the wind.

For hybrid seed, pollination must be controlled to ensure hybrid purity. The best-performing hybrids come from unique and thoroughly tested combinations of parents. In order to achieve efficient cross-pollination between the parents, self-pollination must be prevented. It is the control of pollination that makes hybrid seed more expensive than commercial seed of OP varieties.

Image of canola being unloaded from a truck

Grain growers are being encouraged to correctly declare the open-pollinated canola variety they have grown at the point of sale and pay the end point royalty to ensure canola breeding companies continue development of these varieties.

PHOTO: Arthur Mostead

High-performing hybrid seed is genetically uniform because each plant has the same 50 per cent contribution from both parents. However, in subsequent generations the genetic contributions of each parent segregates or is disrupted and the unique high-performing genetic combination is lost. This is why hybrid seed is best bought every year for maximum performance.

By contrast, OP varieties remain mostly stable across generations, which means growers can retain seed for successive plantings without rapid loss of performance.

There are several hybrid canola types on the market to meet the needs of growers across different environments. These include different varieties with four different types of herbicide tolerance (triazine tolerant (TT); Roundup Ready® (RR); stacked TT and RR; and imidazolinone-tolerant, commonly termed Clearfield® canola).

Most currently available OP canola is limited to TT or conventional canola (Table 1). Several new OP TT canola varieties have been released in the past few years, demonstrating that canola breeding companies remain committed, for now, to the genetic advancement of OP TT varieties.

The main benefits of OP TT canola varieties are their relatively low initial seed cost of $12 to $15 per kilogram (depending on variety and treatment), the opportunity to retain seed for the next few seasons, and for weed management.

As a consequence, OP TT varieties are a good fit for medium to low-rainfall areas. GRDC-supported research has shown that OP TT varieties can be more profitable than hybrids in these environments, despite an acknowledged yield penalty associated with the TT trait.

Hybrid canola varieties, by contrast, are more vigorous and weed-competitive, with research showing they can yield up to 20 per cent more than OP varieties under certain conditions.

However, hybrid varieties carry a higher seed cost ($27 to $34/kg) and fresh seed needs to be bought each year to maintain yield, vigour and quality.

As a result, many growers – particularly those in medium to low-rainfall environments who still want to grow OP canola – are understandably concerned that canola breeding companies may no longer release new OP varieties.

Tom Giles, the GRDC manager varieties, says private breeding companies are best placed to develop and release OP canola varieties, but he acknowledges the commercial reality that canola breeders need a return on their investment to sustain their breeding efforts.


What are end point royaltiies?

An end point royalty (EPR) allows plant-breeding companies to recover their return on investment. It is a risk-sharing mechanism where the grower of the crop pays a royalty based on production rather than a set fee when they buy a variety.

A significant level of investment is required to develop and commercialise new varieties, with a path to market that may take seven to 12 years.

The continual investment made by plant-breeding organisations (both privately and publicly funded) is supported by returns generated from the EPR system.

As EPR returns are linked to production, the return on investment received by plant breeding organisations provides an incentive to develop the most productive and highest-value varieties, which in turn ensures the Australian grains industry continues to receive the highest-quality varieties into the future.

SOURCE: Variety Central

“Traditionally, developers of OP canola varieties relied on seed sales instead of end point royalties (EPRs) to generate a return on investment, with the exception of varieties released by Canola Breeders Western Australia, which are now commercialised through NPZ Australia and their marketing partners,” Mr Giles says.

Recently some other breeders have followed suit: “Over the past couple of years we’ve seen some canola varieties released from other breeders that carry an EPR requirement,” Mr Giles says.

Given the cost of developing new varieties, he is encouraging growers to support the future development of OP canola varieties by correctly declaring the OP varieties they are growing: “This sends a strong market signal to breeders,” he says.

“Ultimately, the best thing growers can do to encourage the breeding sector to develop OP varieties is to pay EPRs,” he says.

“There are enough hectares of OP canola grown to make the development of OP varieties commercially viable, provided that there is good EPR collection compliance.”

Nuseed is one of the few seed companies that still includes OP TT canola varieties in its R&D pipeline (Table 1).

According to Nuseed Australia commercial manager Andrew Loorham, OP TT will remain part of the company’s offering because many growers see it as an important canola type to have in their crop selection mix.

“Some growers are worried we will not continue to have OP TT varieties in our development plans, and we understand that, which is why we are encouraging growers to declare their crop EPRs to support ongoing research,” he says.

“We are continuing to develop OP TT varieties and have just released a new one called ATR Mako, which will be available to growers for the first time this year.”

Growers interested in seeing how ATR Mako performs against other canola varieties in their rainfall zone can visit the GRDC-supported National Variety Trials website.

Seedvise’s Denis McGrath, who works as an EPR agent on behalf of plant breeders, says one of the major advantages of the EPR system is breeders share the production risk with growers.

“If there is a drought the breeder also gets less money,” he says. “And with OP canola varieties where growers retain seed from one season to the next, the EPR is the only way breeding companies can earn a return to trigger future breeding investments.”

Mr McGrath is encouraging growers to tell breeders they want continued access to new OP varieties by correctly declaring the OP variety they have grown when selling their grain.

To help growers understand the obligations associated with growing varieties with EPRs, Mr McGrath has worked with breeders to develop a new common variety licence: a legally binding contract between the owner of the EPR variety or the licensed commercialisation party and the grower.

For more information on OP canola variety licences and other EPR-related information visit the Variety Central website.

Common name
PBR name
Type Owner Royalty manager
EPR rate $/tonne (GST exclusive)
Seed distribution arrangements 2016
Grower sales permitted
Table 1 Canola varietyies subject to end point royalties for 2016.
Argyle CB Argyle
 TT NPZ Australia
NPZ Australia  $5 No longer available
 No
Bonito ATR Bonito
 TT Nuseed Nuseed  $5 Nuseed  No
Boomer CB Boomer
 TT NPZ Australia
NPZ Australia  $5 No longer available  No
Brazzil SF Brazzil
 Conventional RAGT Semences
Seed Force
 $7 Seed Force
 No
Mako ATR Mako
 TT Nuseed Nuseed  $5  Nuseed  No
Oasis Xceed Oasis
 Juncea Viterra/AVS SeedNet  $5  SeedNet  No
Scaddan CB Scaddan
 TT NPZ Australia
NPZ Australia  $5 No longer available
 No
Sturt TT
Sturt TT
 TT NPZ Australia NPZ Australia $5  NPZ Australia Pioneer
 No
Tanami CB Telfer
 TT NPZ Australia NPZ Australia  $5 No longer available
 No
Telfer CB Telfer
 TT NPZ Australia NPZ Australia  $5 No longer available  No
Tribune
Tribune  TT NPZ Australia NPZ Australia  $5 No longer available  No
Trigold Trigold
 TT NPZ Australia NPZ Australia  $5    No
Wahoo ATR Wahoo
 TT Nuseed Nuseed  $5 Nuseed  No
Yetna Yetna
 TT Agronomy for Profit
Agronomy for Profit
 $4  Agronomy for Profit
 No

 SOURCE: Variety Central

More information:

Tom Giles,
02 6166 4500,

tom.giles@grdc.com.au;

Denis McGrath,
0408 688 478,
denis@seedvise.com.au

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