How to model sugar beet to face next decade’s challenges in sugar production – a perspective from breeding.
Since the development of early sugar beet varieties as the main sucrose producing crop of temperate climate zones in the mid of the 19th century, a continuously breeding driven adaptation to significantly changing agriculture practices as well as to newly arising pests and diseases was key for the success of the crop until today. Milestones in these developments were for example: the shift from multigerm to monogerm varieties, innovative rhizomania and nematode tolerant hybrids or Glyphosate- and Sulfonylurea herbicide tolerance systems in North America or Europe, respectively. In addition, continuously increasing sugar yields combined with elevated sugar contents ensured the competitiveness of sugar beet in the various cropping regions and made sugar beet to a stable and highly profitable crop for the whole value chain. Looking to the next decades new challenges appear on the horizon and are threatening the stability and profitability of beet-based sugar production. Increasing extreme weather events caused by climatic changes, restrictive frame-conditions for farming or missing next generation plant protection products can destabilize the production systems with different significance regarding the worldwide production areas. To encounter these threats, the identification of new genetic solutions is key to keep sugar beet as an important factor in the respective crop rotations. New and innovative test-systems for biotic and abiotic stresses need to be developed as a means to fulfill these important goals. In addition, molecular and environmental information will expand predictive breeding approaches for known and newly identified genetic variation and with this opening the door for sophisticated crop modelling. Consequently, KWS has invested in the past years significantly in the establishment of technologies, test-systems and breeding approaches with the goal to speed-up breeding and extend biotic and abiotic stress resistance. In this way we will model sugar beet to a new level of robustness and keep it as a highly profitable crop in the up-coming challenging decades.