Kuban Plant Breeders Will Cultivate Seeds in Growth Chamber

Kuban breeders began cultivating sunflower in hydroponic growth chamber. Representative of VNIIMK Federal Research Center explained the impact of the experiment on the industry and its scaling to other crops

Federal State Budgetary Research Institution “Federal Research Center “All-Russian Research Institute of Oilseed Crops named after V.S. Pustovoit” (VNIIMK) is engaged in cultivation of oilseed varieties and hybrids. They are included in the State Register of Breeding Achievements, tested and allowed for use in production. For today the institution is a strategic centre of domestic seed breeding, manufacturing of high reproduction seeds for annual varietal renewal and varietal change of sunflower and its hybrids, soybean varieties, flax, rape, turnip, mustard, false flax, coriander. In her interview to RBC TV South, Marina Trunova, Deputy Director for Research at VNIIMK Federal Research Center, spoke on development of import-substituting seed selection in Kuban and future trends of the industry in 2023.

Marina Trunova, Deputy Director for Research at VNIIMK Federal Research Center

Recently, VNIIMK Federal Research Center has launched new complex for sunflower cultivation in hydroponic growth chamber, where there will be held an experiment on growing this crop in artificial environment without soil. How did you come up with this idea? What results are expected at the end of the experiment?

Our team came up with this idea after visiting one of the exhibitions that displayed the systems allowing to grow plants using hydroponics. The specialists appeared to be very cooperative and offered to test our sunflower in hydroponic conditions to see whether it could grow or not. The experiment was successful. At once we decided to re-equip a large room, almost 100 m2, installed there a split system, arranged water supply and draining system. The room was fully equipped for hydroponics. There you can grow 360 plants, that certainly doesn't sound very impressive, but that's a lot of space for this kind of material.

We launched this chamber in April. So far the plants have bloomed, they feel comfortable in this nutritious environment. But we understand that the system needs to be improved in order to control test solution, light, temperature. It is required to add gauges to monitor the environment. We plan to scale the result and involve more facilities for year-round operation. As getting even three generations of sunflower per year will contribute to industry development and progress, particularly in terms of generating analogs.

We also plan to try this technology on the rest of the crops. Right now we are experimenting with soybeans, rape and flax. And, if the plants do well, this practice will be scaled to the rest of the crops.

This year, VNIIMK's product — high-oleic variety of winter rape — was registered in Russian State Register for the first time. What other varieties and what crops are currently under trial? Which ones will be introduced soon?

For example, Olivin is Russia's first high oleic winter rape variety with up to 80% content of oleic acid. This year it will be sown in large amounts. Another one variety that passed the trials is the yellow-seeded spring rape Kenar. Livestock breeders gave good feedback about it, they tried it on broiler chickens and observed increase in height using the seeds of this variety. It is distinguished by its yellow seeds. That is, they have less anti-nutrients and more fibre, so animals grow better. Another crop is the first ever herbicide-tolerant confectionery sunflower variety for clearfil technology. There is no analog of this variety, and we are addressing the issue of weed control by sowing confectionery sunflower. It springs up at low density and grows much more vigorously than any other hybrid. This will allow growing sunflowers in a cleaner environment.

Besides, I should mention interesting soybean project that we implement jointly with the Institute of Physiology and Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Irkutsk. New soybean variety is suitable for cultivation in permafrost soils. It was not accepted in Irkutsk Region. Nevertheless, this variety exists, it is suitable both for growing in central chernozem regions and in Irkutsk Region. In our region, this variety is suitable for postcut stubble crops seeding: we sow in the summer — in the fall we can harvest the second crop, and it will be high enough. This is implemented in many crops: turnip, mustard with high content of essential oil — Sarepta spring dune that is also suitable for Dijon mustard. There are no analogs.

For now, we are expecting the tested varieties to be included in the State Register. We submit 10–15 varieties annually. These are currently two new varieties that are resistant to sulphate, Surinat and Suri. This technology is well accepted by agricultural producers, so we needed a range with different vegetation periods. As a result, farmers have less workload in fields and the area of cultivation becomes larger.

What is the current VNIIMK's economics status? What is the budget structure and dynamics over the past years, given your output in the number of varieties created?

Recent years showed consistently good dynamics. Like everyone else, we have been hammered by prices and absence of some exported crops including oilseeds. Last year, we expected higher revenue. Agricultural producers are cutting costs on purchase of varietal seeds such as flax and rape. If the year before last the sales were going well, this year many farmers decided to sow what they have. There is a small amount of seed left, but the income has also decreased.

Promotion of domestic varieties permits to leave as much funds as possible within the country. These funds will be directed to further breeding. The more money we get, the more we invest in research, knowing that this is the future not only of the institute, but of the country as well. Our budget is primarily formed from sales of commercial products. Small share of public funds goes to state contracts, but it is limited to 7% of the total turnover. The situation is changing this year.

Federal State Budgetary Research Institution “Federal Research Center “All-Russian Research Institute of Oilseed Crops named after V.S. Pustovoit”
VNIIMK, the TugAgro exhibition

Changes in terms of structure? Does the percentage get higher?

When VNIIMK and 9 similar institutions were brought under control of Russian Ministry of Agriculture, we were heard and given opportunities for development. Given the current situation, the industry requires development of domestic production, so our centre is now receiving investments. Now we have received funds for procurement of agricultural machinery, laboratory equipment. Although under some other programs we also received funds in the previous several years, owing to this we were able to acquire complete set of combine harvesters that are important for breeding.

We plan to buy breeding planters. This is the most sophisticated issues. However, funding, lease subsidies, seed selection and breeding centre that appeared this year permit to update production equipment. This makes both sowing, tillage and harvesting more efficient and improves seed quality as well.

In 2023, RUB 265 million were allocated to upgrade facilities and equipment, RUB 42 million — for seed selection and breeding centre, RUB 10 million — to upgrade instruments. This is far more than our annual budget for state contracts. Considering this, we are trying to use these funds as rationally as possible and direct them to the priority issues of development.

Given the challenges with foreign equipment in 2022, what percentage of imported equipment is there today? Are you working more with domestic or foreign equipment?

Last year, when many companies faced some challenges, our institution tried to buy back everything that was imported in Russia at that time, including chemical reagents. Right now, domestic equipment is evolving quite well. For example, we buy domestic chambers for plant freezing manufactured by Mechanization Institute. They look as good as foreign ones. For some European equipment there are Chinese analogs with lower prices. We buy both domestic and imported equipment — 50/50. For the equipment without domestic analogs, of course, we try to buy the best of imported. But if Russian equipment is better in quality, then we choose it.

This November, Krasnodar will host Anniversary International Exhibition YugAgro. In your opinion, how important is this kind of platform for the region and the country?

We always conduct Round Table discussions at YugAgro to share important information with our customers. At the same time, the exhibition gathers many agricultural companies, presents a lot of agricultural equipment for specialists, it allows to discuss common problems and find solutions. For example, the issue of hare control in the fields - there we can check new products, nets, electric fences, what else we can try, touch, or consider in this regard. That's why such platforms are essential and important, and it's great to have one of them in our city.

What are your plans for development in 2023? What are the priorities?

Top priority is to implement Safety and Import Substitution Doctrine. We have been working on this for several years now, and 2023 was no exception. We sowed lots of fields for propagation of parental seeds for sunflower hybrids, one of the most difficult crops in seed breeding.

In general, we faced a lot of challenges during sowing campaign — low temperatures, rains. At the moment we are lagging behind schedule, but if the weather permits us to get good results, which can provide us with all parental seeds for sunflower hybridization next year, then I believe this year will go well for us. This is true not only for sunflower, but for all oilseed crops.

The 30th YugAgro International exhibition of agricultural machinery, equipment and materials for crop production will be held in Expograd Yug exhibition centre in Krasnodar on 21–24 November. Free electronic registration for visitors is already open on the official YugAgro website.

Rostselmash is the general partner of the Exhibition
ROSAGROTRADE is the general sponsor of the Exhibition