Confection sunflower variety development initiative

Posted on 06.02.2017 | Last Modified 07.05.2019
Lead Researcher (PI): Michael Hagen
Institution: National Sunflower Association of Canada
Total WGRF Funding: $284,042
Co-Funders: AgriInnovation Program, MAFRD-Agri-Food Research & Development Initiative
Start Date: 2014
Project Length: 4 Years

To develop new adaptable confection sunflower hybrids with the desirable dark, long-type seed for the Canadian market. To incorporate herbicide tolerance and disease resistance into the breeding program.

Project Summary:

Canadian sunflower growers have limited access to confection sunflower genetics and hybrids. At present, outside of this project, there remains no sunflower breeding programs, public or private in Canada.  Canadian sunflower growers continue to be entirely dependent upon U.S.A. seed companies for seed supplies, that results in hybrids that are not completely adaptable for our northern growing conditions. Therefore, Canadian growers do not have access to the range of hybrids and crop protection products that would help to stabilize annual yields and help to ensure consistent quality. The lack of genetic for confectionary hybrid offerings combined with delayed availability of resistance traits, has resulted in a steady decline in sunflower acreage over the past 10 years. The National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) contracted an independent sunflower breeder through a five-year project with the objective to develop adapted confection sunflower hybrids for our Canadian market with the desired long seed type.  Secondary objectives were to incorporate resistance to three traits – herbicide tolerance (non-transgenic), rust and downy mildew to provide a competitive production advantage to existing commercial hybrids.

The program has advanced the genetic material to a point where several elite parent lines are fixed with herbicide tolerance with an improved long type seed with shoulder width with acceptable disease tolerance. The program now has 100% herbicide tolerance incorporated in our parental material. At the end of March 31, 2018, the program currently has a total of 48 herbicide tolerant female lines, 50 herbicide tolerant male lines, 14 herbicide tolerant male lines with downy mildew resistance and 21 herbicide tolerant male lines with both downy mildew and rust resistance. As the disease resistance continues to be incorporated into our parental material, new hybrids are bred for adaptability testing in Canada. Additionally, the program over the past five years has adapted to market fluctuations to ensure the financial investment in the program produced hybrids that will remain marketable in the future. In 2015-16, industry representatives indicated that selecting for a wide shoulder width would provide a competitive edge and ensure marketable opportunities globally. Developing a hybrid with a wider shoulder width will allow sunflower buyers to sell product domestically, where consumers are accustomed to a wide seed type. While at the same time, exporters work to regain sales into countries, where exports are presently difficult to penetrate. Our breeder with the extensive background and knowledge of the program material made the applicable selections to meet the demand for a wider shoulder width, allowing the program to remain competitive while maintaining the overall objectives.

The project goal, as set for March 31, 2018, was to have a commercially accepted long type confection sunflower hybrid with the herbicide tolerant trait in the final stage of testing. While the program did not achieve its goal of a commercially accepted long type confection sunflower hybrid, the advancements made within the program offer a high likelihood of future success with an additional seed trait that will open additional market opportunities. The genetic material in this program has not completed a full 10-year breeding cycle, however significant advancements have been made.  Advanced performance and pre-commercial strip trial testing demonstrated that the program material has commercial viability in terms of competitive yields combined with a marketable seed type.

The development and commercialization of adapted, high yielding, herbicide tolerant confection sunflower hybrids that produce a dark, long type seed with shoulder width with resistance to downy mildew and rust will provide sunflower growers with a highly marketable end product. The return to the sector in offering the first commercial sulfonylurea herbicide (SU-7) tolerant long type confection sunflower would allow for an increase in sunflower production, as the hybrid(s) will be easier to produce while providing a product that sunflower exporters and processors can market in both domestic and international marketplaces. In return, Canada would regain sunflower acres and our status and brand as a consistent, quality sunflower production region and supplier.