Oilseed rape was among the earliest plants cultivated by mankind – thousands of years ago in Asia, in medieval times in Europe. Today, oilseed rape is the world's third largest source of vegetable oil after soybeans and palm, and Bayer CropScience is behind many of the innovations that are taking this crop to new heights.

Rapeseed oil as a lubricant

The onset of the Industrial Revolution changed the course of oilseed rape cropping forever. The advent of the steam engine brought the need for effective and economical lubricants to grease the wheels of the great iron horses, and machinists soon discovered the superior characteristics of rapeseed oil for this purpose. During World War II, its use as a lubricant for steam-powered ships drove huge demand for rapeseed oil, and production expanded accordingly.

Oilseed rape for food and feed

Only in the past few decades has oilseed rape become a major global commodity after new varieties with improved oil and meal characteristics were developed in the mid-1970s. Known as “00” or “double low”, these varieties were low in euricic acid and glucosinolate and thus enabled more widespread uses oilseed rape in food and feed. Today, these improved varieties are grown worldwide, but primarily in China, Canada, India, Europe, and Australia.

Bayer's broad portfolio

Bayer is a leading global supplier to the canola and oilseed rape industry, with a robust portfolio of integrated crop solutions to improve canola production. This portfolio includes high-yielding hybrids and open-pollinated seed varieties, market-driven traits and crop protection products – both seed-applied and sprayed – that play a crucial role on the farm. “There has been a gradual and steady increase in our canola yields over the past decade thanks to products like Bayer's InVigor and Prosper EverGol,” says Pete Sprunger, an InVigor hybrid canola producer from Alberta, Canada. “The genetics of canola are getting better every year, which adds value to our business. Canola is a primary cash crop providing us with a good return on dollars per acre spent.”

Protecting premium seed

With the dominance of specialty canola varieties and hybrids today, farmers make it a key priority to protect their premium seed from disease and insect damage right from the start. “Bayer SeedGrowth products and services play a vital role in protecting farmers' major investment in seed, ensuring a healthy crop and enabling high-yielding genetics to perform to their full potential,” says Oliver Guth, Bayer SeedGrowth's Global Oilseeds Segment Manager. “That's why Bayer has long put a great emphasis on innovations in this field.”

Bayer’s canola solutions

In Canada an early seed treatment known as Vitavax* RS was a mainstay against seed- and soil-borne diseases and insect pests in the late 1970s and 1980s. Other products based on new fungicidal formulations followed, and in 2000 Bayer registered Gaucho, the first systemic insecticide for use in canola. This was followed by Prosper in 2004, a combination product including the second-generation neonicotinoid insecticide Clothianidin and three fungicidal active ingredients. Today, Bayer offers Canadian canola growers a highly sophisticated solution called Prosper EverGol, the latest seed treatment innovation registered for canola in 2012. Prosper EverGol layers the insect control and yield enhancement properties of Prosper with a new active ingredient, Penflufen, which provides an extra layer of control against diseases such as Rhizoctonia solani. After EverGol’s first full season of use in Canada, growers seem pleased with the latest Bayer fungicide specifically engineered for use in seed treatments. “On the prairies we often seed canola into cold, dry soil,” Jay Anderson, a farmer from Alberta, Canada, points out. “It is not uncommon for it to sit there for quite some time before it germinates. When treated with Prosper EverGol, I have confidence that my InVigor canola is well protected from early season disease and flea beetle pressure. Prosper EverGol gives InVigor the protection necessary to utilize the strong early season vigor it is known for.”

The Australian perspective

As in Canada, Australian growers see the importance of treating their high-performance seed to protect against disease and enable maximum yield potential. In Australia canola has been treated industrially and by growers since the 1990s, after an outbreak of blackleg devastated canola crops the decade before. “Bayer is establishing a hybrid canola seeds business that enables us to deliver an integrated solution package to growers, including high-quality seed coupled with excellent Bayer SeedGrowth products to help them manage the diseases and insects that thrive in canola,” says Rob Hall, Bayer's Head of Seeds Australia. “We also deliver in-field technical expertise to facilitate the transfer of knowledge about our solutions to our customers. This is a critical link in the chain for us and them.” Bayer's Australian SeedGrowth portfolio includes Gaucho and Jockey Stayer, a fungicidal seed treatment.

Oilseed rape in Europe

Whereas in Canada and Australia canola is sown in the spring, in Europe winter oilseed rape varieties clearly prevail. The major pests in Europe are the flea beetle and cabbage root fly, which cause severe damage when not controlled through seed treatment. Over the years, Bayer has established a strong position in this segment, first with Chinook and later with the next-generation products Modesto and Elado. “Modesto’s reliable efficacy against flea beetles and Elado’s excellent performance against flea beetles and cabbage root fly have made these products true assets for growers,” explains Susanne Kretschmann, Bayer SeedGrowth Manager Germany.

Concerns among European growers

However, after the most recent decision by the European Commission to suspend the use of these and other oilseed rape products, there are concerns among growers that their yields will suffer by up to 10% as a result of insect damage. The possibility that increased use of pyrethroid sprays could lead to accelerated development of resistance in flea beetles and aphids is another concern. “It will be a big challenge for the whole industry to quickly develop new solutions for the European oilseed rape grower, and it is one Bayer takes very seriously,” Susanne Kretschmann adds.

Blackleg solutions for Canada

When asked about the major challenges facing Canadian canola growers, Paul Allen, the Oilseeds Fungicides and Bayer Seed Growth Manager in the western part of Canada, notes that diseases such as blackleg continue to be problematic, and lack good solutions to date. Experts at the Canola Council of Canada agree. “To stay ahead of blackleg, the canola industry needs to engage in a collaborative approach to manage this disease, develop new tools to control it, and develop consistent disease management messaging for canola growers,” the Council says in its 2013 Blackleg Strategic Plan. Bayer hopes to be a major contributor to these efforts, with a host of agronomists and other experts in the field providing advice on best practice, and numerous blackleg solutions in the pipeline, including genetics, traits, seed treatments, and foliar applications.

Challenges in Australia

“In Australia, the biggest challenges growers have to manage are blackleg, sclerotinia and insect pressure in order to produce economically viable returns for a high input crop,” says James Catherall, Bayer SeedGrowth Product Manager Australia. Here, growers will have a new tool starting in the 2014-15 growing season when Bayer expects to launch Poncho Plus, a powerful new insecticide seed treatment that will control more sucking and chewing pests than Gaucho does today.

“In Bayer SeedGrowth, we're moving full steam ahead to develop new solutions to help farmers address their most pressing challenges in canola production,” Oliver Guth says. “From additional insecticidal solutions for flea beetles and cabbage root fly to biological seed treatments to improve crop efficiency, nutrient uptake and yields, there are great new tools ahead for this dynamic crop.”