Breeding for resilience is essential for sustainable tillage farming in the future – Teagasc

Alf Harvey/
Alf Harvey/
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Although the Irish climate bestows high yield potential for its primary tillage crops, it also supports the prevalence of many crop diseases, presently controlled using pesticides, according to Ewen Mullins.

Speaking at the recent National Tillage Conference, the Teagasc Head of Crop Science said the continuation of this approach is unsustainable because of pesticide resistance coupled with EU legislation.

He said facing these challenges, an increased focus on breeding for varietal resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses will be essential to support sustainable tillage farming in the future. A major problem for Ireland in achieving the goal of developing varieties with increased resistance to diseases is that we don’t have indigenous cereal breeding programmes, he said.

Because of this Ireland relies on varieties bred specifically for the UK and northern Europe. Although their breeding programmes have many of the essential agronomic properties for production in Ireland, Septoria triticia blotch and to some extent Fusarium head blight are not the main disease pressure in these areas, unlike they are in Ireland, he explained.

As a result of this, he says that there are few varieties available on the Irish market that have a high level of resistance to these diseases.

He told the conference that although it is not feasible to re-establish commercial scale breeding programmes for cereals in Ireland, there is an opportunity to develop tool that would allow current cereal breeders supplying the Irish market to select for resistance to specific diseases more efficiently. Such projects like the DAFM funded VICCI, have been operating to identify individual breeding line from breeding populations and collections of heritage varieties are being screened for resilience to diseases, he says.

“Our goal is to exploit this knowledge collected via genetic improvement strategies with commercial breeders so as to lead to the development of resistance phenotypes to both diseases in breeding programmes.

“The project has very ambitious goals based on four particular aspects including; nutrient use efficiency, disease resistance, abiotic stress tolerance as well as import replacement.”

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