Breeding crops that are adapted to Ireland, and can address specific needs of Irish agriculture.

Despite the fact that our climate is ideal for growing many temperate crop species, Ireland still imports large quantities of certain crop-based products for specific purposes. Replacement of these imports with Irish-grown alternatives presents an attractive opportunity for increased profitability, while also increasing the security of supply chains by insulating them from the volatility of global markets.

Faba bean (Vicia faba L.), as well as being a protein rich animal feed, is eminently suitable for inclusion as a nitrogen-fixing break crop in arable rotations. However, breeding for Irish conditions has not been conducted since the the 1980s, and the lack of suitable varieties and associated agronomic packages has led to a gross under-utilisation of this crop and over-reliance on imported soyabean meal. The greatest specific challenge is adaptation of the crop to late autumn sowing under heavy disease pressure, which neither current winter nor spring varieties can deliver. VICCI has initiated a collaboration with Donal O'Sullivan, Professor of Crop Science in the University of Reading School of Agriculture, to re-start faba bean breeding in Ireland by means of a PhD project to develop appropriate breeding methods and study response to selection for faba bean in Irish conditions. This will result in better adapted germplasm from which faba bean varieties adapted to Irish conditions may be selected, whilst training a faba bean breeder capable of translating burgeoning knowledge of faba bean and legume functional genomics into a 21st century breeding programme.

Over 50,000 tonnes of potatoes are imported into Ireland each year. Most of these are targeted at the fresh chip sector and are specific chipping varieties sourced from the east of England. We also have an indigenous crisping industry, which sources the majority of its required raw materials in Ireland, but long term storage of suitable potatoes can be problematic, requiring imports in late spring and early summer to bolster supplies. Developing potato varieties suited to Irish growing conditions, but also possessing the unique profile of cooking and storage characteristics required by the processing industry could contribute to a large reduction in the requirement to import processing potatoes (and a consequent increase in potato growing area in Ireland). VICCI is leveraging the revolution in next generation DNA sequencing and the internationally competitive commercially potato breeding programme at Teagasc to develop advanced genomic selection strategies to improve processing characteristics for potato varieties being developed for Ireland.