Biodiversity in Winter Rape Seed

Changed on: 08.04.2019
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Winter oilseed rape: bee pasture and contribution to variety diversity in the cultural landscape.
Landschaftsaufnahme mit gelben Rapsfeld im Hintergrund und grünem Weizenfeld im Vordergund.

Increasing the sustainability of agricultural production is a key goal of both the European Commission and consumers. This is also valid - from a consumer perspective - for the availability of healthy foods produced in this way and for protecting the environment. This can minimise the negative effects caused by ongoing climate change. Additionally, sustainable production and careful use of resources contributes to maintaining and increasing biodiversity.

With a total of 6.4 million hectares, the cultivated area for winter oilseed rape – the most important oil crop in the EU by far – exceeded that of sunflowers (4.1 million ha) and soya beans (0.92 million ha) considerably in 2016. This crop species has experienced rapid progress in recent decades thanks to being subject to plant breeders. Thus, varieties that are free of erucic acid and low in mustard oil have become available for agriculture, the processing food industry, animal feed and, subsequently, to consumers as a result of dedicating breeding.


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Different winter oilseed rape varieties: semi-dwarf growing types are shorter and have stiffer stems.
Unterschiedliche Wuchstypen bei Winterraps: Halbzwergformen bleiben ihrer Bezeichnung entsprechend im Wuchs kürzer und sind sehr standfest.

Only two or three rapeseed varieties were cultivated on an area of about 5,000 hectares in Austria between 1950 and 1975. In addition, the rapeseed oil gained from these varieties was not suitable for human consumption. Local farmers have cultivated this area on a manifold scale since 1990, with the harvest area being slightly larger at 39,500 hectares in 2016 than in the previous year (2015: ca. 37,000 ha), but clearly under the 52,000 hectares recorded in 2014. To date, 31 winter oilseed rape varieties are listed in the Austrian Varieties List based on their positive, domestic test results. Farmers are able to choose the best suited variety for their regional conditions and requirements from this variety list.

The characteristics and regional cultivation suitability of these oilseed rape varieties coming from 12 different plant breeders can be found in the Austrian Descriptive Variety List 2017. In particular, the high-yield hybrid varieties were endorsed and marketed by Austrian seed material companies during the last autumn season. Seed propagation of many of these varieties is carried out as a basis for domestic oilseed rape production, even in Austria. Hybrid cultivars are grown on around three quarters of the local cultivation area, while the remaining area is cultivated with pure line varieties.

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Variety differentiation at the time of flowering
Sortendifferenzierung im Blühzeitpunkt bei Winterraps

Only one new semi-dwarf variety (PX 105) was accepted onto the Austrian Varieties List in 2016, making another short-growing and liquid manure tolerant variety suitable for more intensive production conditions available to farmers. The composite index of the cultivars tested has averaged between 1.5 and 1.8 since the 1990s. This means that 55 different parental lines were used (composite index = 1.5) for breeding the 31 rape seed varieties approved for cultivation in Austria.

Winter oilseed rape is a good example of a relatively new cultivar to widen the variety spectrum within the past 30 years for the long-term and why rapeseed could establish itself as a sought-after component in crop rotation. Thus, European farmers from the listed countries can choose from a multiple of winter oilseed rape varieties in 2017 that differ in their characteristics and are adapted to regional conditions than they could in 1985. These varieties also differ regarding their parental lines and, thus, contribute to the larger diversity of varieties of this crop desired by the EU on a sustainable basis.

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Development of the number of certified varieties in Europe 1985-2015
Bei allen untersuchen Arten nahm die Anzahl der Sorten 1985-2015 zu.
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