Biodiversity and Variety Release

Changed on: 08.04.2019

The biodiversity of agricultural crops was one of the topics at the annual meeting of the officials conducting the VCU (= Value for Cultivation and Use) test in September 2016, including a representative of the EU commission. This topic had been proposed by Austria for the meeting at the previous event in Poland in 2015. At that time, AGES also presented the first results for Austria and Germany. An upgrading of the basic data to all interested participants was welcomed and the representatives of the variety release institutions of 13 EU Member States provided Austria the necessary data in the run-up to the meeting. These countries were divided into two regions (East: BG, CZ, HR, HU, LT, LV, PL and SK; West: AT, BE, GER, DK, FR and NL). The countries participating agreed to provide the number of nationally listed varieties and additional statistical data on the area allocated to agriculturally used species for 1985 and 2015.

In the end, 20 crops covering about the same crop cultivation area in both EU regions (East – West) were used for the evaluation.As a result, AGES (NPP/SORT and COM/APA) was able to create graphics giving a representative overview of the development of variety numbers for traditional and new species as a whole across the relevant EU Member States (EU-MS). Very different trends in the extent of varieties between western and eastern EU-MS became evident.

The eastern European countries that took part had listed a total of 264 varieties of eight crop species, while nine such species were listed with 964 different varieties in the western European countries in 1985 (Figures 1, 2 and 3).

Number of listed varieties of selected species in Europe:
Comparison 1985 – 2015
Anzahl gelisteter Sorten ausgewählter Arten in Europa:
Vergleich 1985-2015

The national variety lists contained just over 2,000 varieties of these species (multiplication factor 7.6) in the eastern EU Member States participating in the evaluation thirty years later (2015). However, in the western Member States that took part the number of varieties only increased by a multiplier of 1.6 to 1,600 varieties!

No summer wheat and summer triticale varieties were listed and cultivated in continental Eastern Europe in the past, while a small number of varieties have been put on their lists since last year. In Western Europe, varieties of summer durum were listed and cultivated during the entire period, while none of the western countries lists or cultivates any summer triticale varieties.

The number of varieties of all 10 cereal species examined increased over this period. The variety numbers for winter wheat developed very noticeably, doubling in the West European countries assessed, while increasing eightfold in the East European countries included in this project.
A partly sharp increase in the number of varieties of the other 10 arable crops – from sunflower, maize and rape seed to potato and field beans – has been seen in this 30 year period and cultivated on areas considerably different in size according to the species (maize – field bean). The variety number increased slightly more than two-and-a-half fold in the West during this period (1463 to 4043 varieties), while the number of varieties of these crops multiplied by 10 in the East European countries (464 to 4860 varieties)!

Number of listed varieties of selected species in Eastern Europe:
Comparison 1985-2015
Anzahl gelisteter Sorten ausgewählter Arten in Osteuropa:
Vergleich 1985-2015

Species of this species group show uniquely how – for maize or winter oilseed rape, for instance – the importance of cultivation increased drastically over the period, as a result of the progress in growing and resulting increase in profitability. The number of maize varieties increased by 16-fold (131 to 2095) and 19-fold for winter oilseed rape (19 to 721) in the East, as opposed to the clearly lower increase of threefold as many maize varieties (527 to 1473) and  sevenfold as many rapeseed varieties in Western Europe. The difference between the two regions in regards to other oil crops, such as sunflowers and soya beans or even sugar beet and potatoes, was far lower for both varieties and cultivation areas. 

The variety release institutions in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic agreed as part of their annual winter oilseed rape meeting to look into the genetic background of the varieties listed in their countries in more detail. One of the reasons for this was to be able to provide results to the other countries at the EU VCU Meeting for a second, more detailed stage relating to biodiversity among varieties. To do so, the anonymized pedigree data of the listed varieties were brought together and all redundancies eliminated. All winter oilseed rape hybrid varieties listed in 2015 in these countries contained 1.7 different components/growing lines per variety. These 192 rapeseed varieties came from a total of 28 different growers. Only three varieties of these hybrids were listed in all four neighbouring countries and 20 varieties in three of these countries. Similarly low intersecting sets with regards to mutual varieties were found by surveys on barley, maize, soya beans, sunflowers and winter wheat at previous EU VCU Meetings. However, these varieties have not yet been examined in regards to their variety components.

Austria can also provide figures for 1965. These figures show that there were no listings or production activities for varieties of the following crops: soya beans, sunflowers, pumpkins, winter oilseed rape, winter triticale, summer and winter wheat. These “novel” species were cultivated on an area of around 200,000 hectare in Austria in 2015, which equals about 15 percent of the total arable area (1.35 million ha). Thus, farmers can choose from a wider range of species and varieties for their crop rotation, making production more sustainable and environmentally friendly through the usage of more disease-tolerant varieties. Austrian farmers can also access an interactive webtool to facilitate variety selection for these domestic varieties.

Number of listed varieties in Western Europe:
Comparison 1985-2015
Anzahl gelisteter Sorten ausgewählter Arten in Westeuropa:
Vergleich 1985-2015