Proposed work will help identify crop characteristics and ""sustainability criteria"" associated with the capacity of new varieties to maintain yield under more variable conditions and under more sustainable crop management practices (e.g. with regard to the use of fertiliser, water or plant protection products). Work shall result in the development of methods and tools to integrate sustainability criteria into performance testing (VCU testing and other performance trials) under a range of agro-ecological environments, soil types and on-farm conditions. In addition, activities will improve precision and speed of methods for DUS testing based on European/international requirements for the marketing and granting of rights for new varieties. Proposals must clearly address the specificities of VCU and DUS testing while exploiting synergies between the two, in particular when advancing field-based phenotyping methods, molecular tools and when setting up databases and reference collections. Consortia are required to tap into the expertise of various sectors – ranging from research, breeding, performance testing networks (including VCU testing), plant variety DUS examination offices to farming (conventional and organic) - to bring together the necessary, multidisciplinary know-how. The work proposed shall address performance (including VCU) and DUS testing in a balanced way and maximise synergies between related activities.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 8 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
Agriculture (including horticulture and other forms of primary production) is increasingly being urged to reduce its dependency on external inputs, lower its environmental footprint and cope with more variable climatic conditions. In this context, plant breeding needs to further evolve and take into account more systematically those characteristics that contribute to crop resilience vis-a-vis biotic and abiotic stresses. This implies that criteria and methods are in place to test the performance of new plant varieties under conditions associated with sustainable and more variable farming practices[[For the purpose of this topic performance testing - including testing for value for cultivation and use (VCU) - is not limited to important agricultural species. In relation to agricultural species mentioned in the Seed Directives this implies that the term ""performance testing"" should be understood as equal to testing the VCU.
]]. Innovations in breeding can be further promoted by increasing the robustness and efficacy of variety testing methods for obtaining marketing authorization and Plant Variety Rights[[Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) are legal requirements for authorisation of marketing of new varieties of agricultural, fruit and vegetable species in the EU. They are also applied for granting Plant Variety Rights to breeders to protect their innovations. Varieties belonging to important agricultural species (for food and feed) can be marketed on the Common market only if – in addition to the DUS requirements - they exhibit a significant value of cultural use (VCU).]].
Activities will support the introduction of new varieties that are “fit for purpose”, i.e. that provide stable and high(er) yields while having an increased capacity for adaptation to varying biotic and abiotic conditions (e.g. mitigating the impacts of climate change. This will help introduce plant traits that respond to new challenges and demands in the conventional and organic sectors, while also taking into account the economic return of growers. More specifically, activities will help:
- gain a better understanding of crop-specific characteristics underpinning resource efficiency as well as resilience to more challenging environments;
- develop experimental designs, methods and tools to improve performance testing (including VCU) of new varieties for their sustainability profile;
- evaluate protocols and increase the range of tools available to European plant variety offices for DUS testing;
- support activities of the network of European and national plant variety examination offices;
- provide breeders and bodies entrusted with variety testing with more robust selection/testing criteria and tools to predict the performance of genotypes in different pedo-climatic and agronomic conditions;
- improve information and recommendations on variety performance available to growers.
Potentially, molecular tools developed under proposed activities will benefit other uses such as the detection of new breeding methods.
In the longer term improved testing methods will promote the marketing and use of more adaptable and sustainable varieties by European farmers.