SESVanderHave continues to work on further enhancing the genetics of sugar beets, aiming to maximise the return for both grower and industry.
There is a fine balance between maximum sugar production and extraction return at the lowest cost while maintaining low impact on the environment. With that goal in mind, SESVanderHave consistently aims to eliminate factors that can reduce yield. For some challenges - such as tolerance to bolting, rhizomania, nematodes, rhizoctonia and leaf diseases - SESVanderHave has developed commercial solutions. For newer challenges - such as drought, heat and the suppression of the flowering process by winter beets, SESVanderHave is currently dedicating full resources to research efforts.
Pioneers in sugar beet research
“In the 1980s, SESVanderHave saved sugar beet cultivation in areas susceptible to rhizomania, the most critical disease for sugar beet”, explains Erik De Bruyne, biologist and rhizomania expert. “At that time, SESVanderHave developed and marketed the very first rhizomania tolerant variety. If we hadn’t done so, we could by now have witnessed the collapse of sugar beet production in many regions.”
As pioneers in sugar beet research, SESVanderHave has built unrivalled experience. In glasshouses, growth chambers, laboratories and on research trials, highly qualified growers, lab assistants and field workers continuously adapt the existing varieties through sophisticated cultivation programmes.
Today, SESVanderHave continues to develop and deliver innovative solutions. “For instance, for the American and French market, we recently developed Tandem Technology®, which combines a number of defence mechanisms against rhizomania, making the damage risk through infections very small, even in heavily affected regions”, says Marc Meulemans, sugar beet breeder at SESVanderHave.
Efficient selection with DNA research
The sugar beet is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years for the plant to produce seeds. That makes the breeding and development of the sugar beet varieties a difficult and time-consuming process. But improved knowledge and technological advances in genetics and plant physiology are clearing the way for faster genetic progress.
“Thanks to the marker technology, we can now crossbreed with a much more targeted approach”, says Stefaan Horemans, Senior Breeder at SESVanderHave. “Our state-of-the-art marker technology makes use of the ‘DNA barcode’. This way, laboratory researchers can assess in an early stage which plants have the required tolerance, enabling us to focus our research on the most interesting material. Scientists no longer have to wait for years to obtain the results of field and laboratory tests in order to know the true nature of the crossing. This process of optimisation is faster and much more efficient.”
Twelve years of research in one beet
Every modern sugar beet variety is the result of ten to twelve years of research and development. In SESVanderHave’s glasshouses in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, nurserymen crossbreed thousands of plants. After an impressive number of tests only the strongest performing progeny are selected. This process can easily take five years before the most promising lines have been selected. These lines are the result of crossbreeding and forced inbreeding. They have also been tested for many years in glasshouses and on hundreds of research trials. “Sometimes we harvest as few as five remaining seeds, but these are very valuable when you consider the time and energy we’ve put into producing them”, says Horemans.
These elite seeds, in turn, are used as the basis for the large-scale production of basic seed. Most of the elite seeds are multiplied in Southern France and Northern Italy. This is done in covered cages, so that external pollen cannot pollute the pure line. This process yields thousands of basic seeds with an excellent high purity genetic composition. Before this basic seed can be used for the large-scale production of commercial seed, the targeted variety must first go through the official registration procedures of the appropriate public authority and the industry for its designated country of sale. Only then, work in the factory can begin with raw commercial seeds being processed into finished high-quality SESVanderHave seeds.
In a very competitive environment, a sugar beet variety remains on average only four years on the market, after which other improved varieties will out-perform it. It is this mechanism that ensures that sugar beets continue to deliver an annual yield improvement of 1,5%, making the sugar beet one of the most profitable crops and success stories in modern plant breeding.
Innovative solutions continue to keep SESVanderHave genetics and its customers at the forefront of the sugar beet industry.