The variety testing team at ILVO performs the annual VCU and DUS trials for several crops. In addition, they constantly aim to optimise the evaluation standards for variety permission. Each year, the Descriptive and Recommended Variety List is published. Farmers can use this list to find valuable information about the varieties that are admitted on the Belgian Variety List.
Research for the Value for Cultivation and Use of Agricultural Crops (VCU)
VCU trials are executed for all agricultural crops submitted for registration (with the exception of sugar beet). ILVO organises the trials located in Flanders, which currently includes silage maize, grain maize, ray grasses, white clover, fodder beet, chicory, flax and cereals.
A cultivar posses a sufficient Value for Cultivation and Use when it shows a significant improvement over existing cultivars in terms of cultivation or valorisation of the harvest, or the products that are obtained. A lower score for a specific characteristic (for instance yield) can be compensated by specific positive properties such as a disease resistance.
Depending on the species, 6 to 10 trials are performed on different locations in Flanders (Merelbeke, Geel, Poperinge, Bassevelde) and Wallonia (organised by CRA-Gembloux). In the trials, new varieties are compared to a number of standard varieties (the best varieties in the commercial circuit) according to predetermined criteria.
Each year an average of 10% of the new tested cultivars are admitted. Only the best varieties are admitted to the catalogue because of the constant demand to improve upon the standard varieties in terms of their requirements and sustainability-related criteria (quality, disease resistance, harvest security).
Research on Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS)
ILVO performs the DUS-research for industrial chicory and fodder beet according to the UPOV-criteria (Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties). Other agricultural crops are regulated under bilateral agreements, e.g. with France and Germany for maize.
A cultivar is sufficiently distinct when it distinguishes itself from any other variety that is either registered in the EU or is in trial, based on one or more important observable characteristic. These characteristics are based on:
- morphology, e.g. chicory root length and shape
- colour, e.g. colour of the root for fodder beet, colour of the flower for chicory
- physiology, e.g. inulin content for chicory
- disease resistance
A cultivar is sufficiently uniform when all plants of the cultivar are similar or genetically identical for all considered characteristics, taking into account the method of reproduction. A new cultivar should be as uniform as all comparable varieties.
A cultivar is sufficiently stable when it remains consistent with its description after consecutive reproduction cycles.
ILVO is also an authorised examination office for plant breeder’s rights for some ornamentals, including tuberous begonia (Begonia x tuberhybrida), azalea (Rhododendron simsii, R. indicum, R. obtusum) and some Hibiscus species (H. paramutabilis x H. syriacus, H. sinosyriacus, H. syriacus). ILVO was assigned this responsibility by order of the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO - Angers, European plant breeder's rights) and the Service for Intellectual Property – Ministry of Economical Affairs (national plant breeder’s rights organisation).
Optimisation of the evaluation criteria for variety admission
Profitable cultivation is highly dependent on the variety sown. Besides ILVO’s research on DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity, Stability) and VCU (Value for Cultivation and Use), we also work to optimise evaluation criteria used when evaluating new varieties.
Evaluation procedures clearly increase cost-effectiveness in agriculture. During the last decade alone, the integration of new varieties increased production of several fodder crops by 1 to 2% per year. Continual adaptation of the evaluation system for new varieties ensures that only the best new varieties are allowed onto the national variety list. Improved selection criteria are essential to help farmers benefit from the progress in plant breeding.
Descriptive and Recommended Variety List
For more than 20 years, ILVO has published a Descriptive and Recommended Variety List. In the last 20 years, many Belgian farmers have come to rely on this variety list when choosing the best variety for their needs. Objective comparison between fodder crops is of particular benefit to small-scale farmers. The descriptive and recommended variety list offers the farmer the information needed to try new varieties with a minimum of risk.
The variety testing team intends to expand the Descriptive and Recommended Variety List. A single booklet contains all data for silage maize, grain maize, fodder grasses, fodder beet and catch crops.
An efficient use of the best varieties cannot be separated from the most appropriate cultivation techniques. In the Descriptive and Recommended Variety List, some data are added to support the variety choice under specific exploitation conditions (e.g. lower fertilisation). These data are adapted based on the results of yearly trials.
An annual Descriptive and Recommended Variety List is also for published for fibre flax and industrial chicory.
Joke Pannecoucque, Johan Van Waes