NFU Sugar calls for more data to be made available on Jackdaw

30 January 2024

Sugar seed

Photograph: Gary Naylor Photography

NFU Sugar is concerned about information provided by British Sugar to growers who have purchased the variety ‘Jackdaw’. 

This variety is not listed on the 2024 RL (Recommended List) but has been sold by British Sugar to some growers. This was because British Sugar sold out of the available stock of BCN-tolerant varieties on the RL, leaving some growers in need of BCN-tolerant seed and unable to otherwise secure any from British Sugar.

NFU Sugar understands that British Sugar has provided these growers with a two-page factsheet, published by the breeder, containing selected data regarding the variety’s performance. The strip trial data shown is not independent, nor is any information provided on trial protocols, replications, or the robustness of the data.

Furthermore, the lack of important independent agronomic data in the information British Sugar has shared with growers, such as disease infection scores, is a major concern. It is vital growers have the information necessary to make informed agronomic decisions when growing any variety, which is one reason the RL exists.

NFU Sugar strongly believes growers should have been provided with a three-year dataset consistent with the RL data available for all other marketed varieties, which will have been generated if Jackdaw was submitted into the process. This would provide growers with consistent, detailed and independent data to support decision making.

Seed breeders will carry out and publish the results of proprietary trials as part of the marketing of their varieties. However, we are alarmed that British Sugar has chosen, in this one case alone, to provide this data to growers in favour of robust, independent, industry-leading trial data generated by our jointly-funded research body, BBRO.

Furthermore, had British Sugar managed the contracting and seed sale process differently, this situation could have been mitigated or potentially avoided.

The NFU understands a number of growers are now revising parts of their seed order having had requests for additional tonnage rejected. Had British sugar done this earlier, or waited until decisions on additional tonnes had been made before supplying the outstanding growers with seed, there may not have been an issue with the availability of BCN-tolerant RL varieties.

This could have reduced or removed the need for British Sugar to supply a non-RL variety to growers, and those growers in question could have been offered a variety recommended by BBRO.

Recommended List

NFU Sugar strongly supports the robust, transparent and independent variety testing carried out in the Recommended List process.

The RL has been one of the major drivers of yield progression and variety improvement over many decades. To help assure the long-term competitiveness of the industry, NFU Sugar believes it remains vital that growers continue to have access to robust, consistent, independent and transparent data on variety performance.

The purpose of the RL trials is to test the genetic potential of new candidate varieties and to recommend the best for use in the UK. The project is run and funded by the BBRO (British Beet Research Organisation).

The Crop Committee meet each December or January to consider new candidate varieties for elevation to the RL and to determine whether any existing candidates should be considered for removal. The committee works to a strict set of procedures and guidelines. Breeders have the opportunity to appeal decisions that they feel were made without following such procedures and guidelines. The Appeal Committee considers such applications.

The committee consists of members of the RL Board plus other independent farmers and industry experts and a BSPB (British Society of Plant Breeders) observer.

NIAB provides technical advice on the RL data. Prior to the meeting, an expert panel receives and validates evidence from breeders regarding other traits and attributes that the breeders wish to present to the committee.

The BBRO RL Crop Committee did not take a decision to recommend Jackdaw on the 2024 BBRO Recommended List, and as such was not marketed by British Sugar on their seed list. This would normally mean the variety could not be grown for a British Sugar beet contract. However, British Sugar has supplied some growers with Jackdaw for 2024 and given its consent for these crops to be delivered.

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