Why oilseed rape matters to us

Why oilseed rape matters to us

Strong reasons drive us to support farmers as they care for their oilseeds. The oil these plants provide is among the healthiest of all vegetable oils. With its omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acid content of almost 30 per cent, it can lower blood fat levels, help prevent blood clots and lower the risk of heart disease.

Another reason why this dazzling yellow plant is so valued by farmers, and so high on our agenda, especially in Europe: it’s used to make bio-diesel. Over one quarter of global oilseed rape production finds its way into our cars’ tanks – a renewable and carbon-free fuel. After crushing, the meal provides a valuable, protein-rich animal feed.

Bees love the abundant nectar the flowers provide too. They can make more than 200 kg of honey from an area the size of a soccer field. All in all, this is a star crop of the future – and it’s no surprise farmers want to grow more and more of it.

Oilseed: the facts

  • The oilseeds we work with include brassica napus (oilseed rape and canola) and brassica juncea (Indian mustard and canola)
  • Oilseed rape is the world’s second most important oilseed after soybeans, in terms of volume
  • Roughly one quarter of global production is from varieties with features enabled by genetic modification
  • Around 95 per cent produced in North America, China, India, Australia and the European Union
  • About 23 million tons of oil produced each year
  • Provides the world’s third most important vegetable oil after soybean and palm oil, in terms of volume

A farmer’s view

A farmer's view
A farmer's view
An oilseed rape pod has up to twenty seeds. The seeds contain the precious rapeseed oil.

Farmers like Volker Tretau from Schleswig Holstein, Germany’s northernmost region, love oilseed rape for another reason. He explains: “Because oilseed rape isn’t a cereal, it’s the perfect intercrop – intercrop being crop used to improve soil fertility and farm income.”

To oilseed farmers the world over, yield is critical. So it’s vital they keep oilseed fields weed-free and able to withstand disease. That’s why high-yielding hybrid seeds, such as those from our InVigor™ range are immensely popular with North American farmers. Our Liberty™ Link technology gives our seeds added herbicide tolerance – so farmers can use our Liberty™ herbicide without the worry of harming their precious crop.

We also believe farmers should enjoy as many options as possible. So in some markets we offer a mix of quality hybrid and open pollinated seeds, including some with added herbicide tolerance agents. That way, farmers benefit from a more sustainable way to control aggressive weeds. Choice means oilseed farmers can rotate their herbicides and seeds for effective, long-lasting weed management that’s suited to their fields.

Problems farmers face

Because this crop is so precious, farmers are well aware of the need to protect it from winter damages in Europe as well as yield-crippling diseases like phoma, black spot and sclerotinia. Sclerotinia stem rot is a disease which can affect all main oil seed rape areas, and can potentially reduce the yield by 30 to 40 per cent. When this happens at the end of the cultivation cycle, the return on investment is heavily affected.

There’s also nothing worse for farmers than spotting black beetles with shiny, green-blue backs on the flowers. Tiny but devastating, they bite the buds to shreds to get at the pollen. In the worst-case scenario, the plants then can’t form seeds.

That’s what happened to farmers in an eastern part of Germany in 2006. The pollen beetle cost them around 30 per cent of their harvest, with some losing everything. It was a tragedy for farmers who’d put heart and soul – and substantial investment – into the year’s harvest.

Even if these diseases and pests are kept in check, there are always others waiting to invade – like –the flea beetle, the cabbage seedpod weevil and the brassica pod midge.

(From left to right) Adult pollen beetle on a canola inflorescence, Pollen beetles on canola flowers, Adult cabbage seedpod weevil on a canola flower.
(From left to right) Adult pollen beetle on a canola inflorescence, Pollen beetles on canola flowers, Adult cabbage seedpod weevil on a canola flower.
(From left to right) Adult pollen beetle on a canola inflorescence, Pollen beetles on canola flowers, Adult cabbage seedpod weevil on a canola flower.

Answers we offer

At Bayer, we fight these problems day in, day out, working alongside farmers as well as in our labs. We know yields of more than three tons of oil (after crushing) per hectare are possible, with products like ours in farmers’ hands.

That’s why we insist on excellent quality and performance from every new Bayer oilseed variety. We put our seeds through the toughest stress tests, assessing how they do in some of the most disease-affected conditions in the world.

Ensuring the very best seed growth right from the start has made us the world’s leading provider for seed treatments and services. Products like Gaucho™, Prosper™ Modesto™ and Elado™ protect and nurture the seed through adverse conditions. They also fight off pest attacks below the soil so the young plant can grow up healthy and strong.

Products like Biscaya™ fight pollen beetles, brassica pod midges and cabbage seedpod weevils, while our Decis™ insecticide takes care of weevils and other pests. Folicur™, Tilmor™ and other products from the Prosaro™ family protect plants against fungal diseases such as phoma or sclerotinia.

All Bayer offers, seeds, traits and plant protection products play a crucial role on the farm.

“While high-performing seed is the basis for high yields, the various treatments we offer empower farmers to do their job effectively and achieve great harvests,” says Bayer crop expert Michael Chmilewski.

New technologies for the field

2009 was a great year for science and for our company. Our researchers succeeded in sequencing the oilseed rape genome. They also identified the genome sequence of turnip rape and wild cabbage: relevant as oilseed rape is a cross between these two plants.

This feat, achieved in close cooperation with research partners in the Netherlands, China and Australia, offers huge benefits for researchers. For example, it speeds up the process of breeding varieties with a higher oil content or special oil compositions.

We see great things ahead for the oilseed rape of the future – a higher content of healthier oil, more vigorous plants which are better able to fight disease and, of course, higher yields per hectare. To make all this happen, we operate a thriving global research and development network across Canada, Belgium, Germany, Australia and India.