Hybrids represent around 60 % of the oilseed rape grown in the United Kingdom today. The area has increased over the last few years as new, improved varieties become available, and farmers realise the real benefits hybrids have to offer. New hybrid breeding techniques allow greater genetic diversity to be introduced to varieties leading to enhanced levels of success in producing desirable agronomic characteristics.

What are the benefits of hybrids?

In Germany, hybrids account for more than 84% of the oilseed rape area, 77% in France and about 99% in North America. These modern hybrids are helping average yields push upwards to 5t/ha. Farmer surveys have shown that on average, a hybrid can produce around 350-500kg/ha more than a conventional variety.
With bonuses being paid at 1.5% of the contract price for every 1% extra oil over 40% the importance of oil content to the overall profitability of a crop can not be ignored. Oil content is a very stable characteristic and with the increased reliability of seed yield given by a DSV hybrid this added benefit should not be underestimated.
It is well known that in general hybrids are more vigorous than conventional varieties. This means they are more able to compensate in the field under difficult growing conditions.
Autumn vigour helps with establishment as well, closing crop gaps to reduce the number of landing areas for pigeons and recovery from weather damage after the winter. Spring vigour means a fast growth rate therefore the plants are less prone to pest damage. They also recover better from weather damage after the winter. This vigour also helps the plants out compete weeds if herbicide efficacy is poor, a common problem under adverse conditions.
Hybrids appear to have better establishment across a wide range of drilling dates and conditions compared with conventional varieties. Most hybrids offer the possibility of a later sowing date, which can be very important in a difficult year and in helping to spread the work load after harvest.
Hybrids require lower seed rates to get the best performance. They perform best with a density of around 40 established plants/m². This allows the right canopy structure to establish and the lower population helps eliminate any risk of lodging. At the beginning of plant establishment a field of hybrid rape generally doesn’t look as dense as a conventional field which is often sown at double the rate.
Hybrid oilseed rape plants tend to suffer less from environmental stresses than conventional varieties. Hybrids are particularly useful in less fertile, more challenging situations, as the technology has been used to develop characteristics that help the plant overcome stress such as a lack of water or extreme cold weather, as well as improving yields. They are also more responsive to inputs than conventional varieties.
Hybrids have well developed roots which prove to be beneficial in common summer droughts. This extensive root system also improves nutrient uptake. Hybrids generally offer better utilisation of water and nutrients.
Breeders are trying to combine characteristics that reduce the height of hybrids, increase standing power as well as improving genetics. DSV are in the process of breeding hybrids which are shorter and stiffer, for instance, Primus at 155cm is one of the shortest non semi dwarf varieties available. The height of hybrids can easily be controlled with the use of a plant growth regulator which is normally part of every fungicide spray programme. Therefore, in treated trials only very little difference in height is seen between conventional and hybrid varieties.