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Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI)
Federal Research Centre
for Cultivated Plants

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Stich

Groß Lüsewitz
Rudolf-Schick-Platz 3a
18190 Sanitz, Germany

Ms Annett Sitte
Tel: +49(0)38209 45-200
Fax: +49(0)38209 45-222

Gabriele Platek
Tel.: 038209 45-100
Fax: 038209 45-120

E-mail: zl@  jki.bund.  de

Institute booklet

Bioeconomy and crop species diversity

Traditional crop species potentially may add to sustainable crop rotations in agriculture. However, if they represent "orphan crops" from a plant-breeding perspective, they often lag behind the major crops with regard to profit contribution and, thus, appear less attractive to farmers. As a consequence, they tend to disappear from agriculture.

Next to neglected crops, there are plant species which have not yet been grown in Germany's agriculture, although they potentially may serve as renewable resources for a sustainable bioeconomy. We are interested in which ways genetic diversity may be used to promote orphan as well as novel crops which have potential to foster a sustainable bio-based economy.

Russian dandelion – From the wild type to a sustainable resource crop for natural rubber

singel plant of Russian dandelion in soil
Russian dandelion, wild type
two rows with Russian dandelion with yellow flower heads
Field of flowering Russian dandelion plants

High-quality rubber is produced in the roots of Russian dandelion, which possibly makes this plant a regional, sustainable alternative to imports from rubber-tree plantations overseas. Using Russian dandelion in such a way requires sophisticated breeding approaches, in order to adapt this more or less undomesticated plant species to the requirements of economical crop farming.

Genetically, Russian dandelion is relatively unexplored so far and as a cross-pollinated species with a strong self-incompatibility system it is not an easy object for breeding purposes. Nevertheless, in collaboration with external partners we have put a focus onto making this undomesticated species amenable to plant breeding.

This includes characterization of gene bank accessions as well as more advanced pre-breeding lines in field and greenhouse trials with regard to agronomical relevant traits. By means of current methods of genome analysis and bioinformatics, we develop molecular markers which may be used as selection tools for identifying and merging favorable gene variants in breeding lines.

Nitrogen fixation potential of legumes

The integration of legumes into crop rotation is of central importance for sustainable and resource-conserving (resilient) agricultural production. In contrast to other crops, legumes are able to form a symbiosis with soil bacteria and fix the nitrogen (N) from the air. With this biological N fixation (BNF) they cover their own N requirements, but also enrich the soil for subsequent or accompanying crops. In organic farming, legumes provide the primary source of nitrogen; in conventional farming, their incorporation into crop rotations can save mineral N fertilizers. The production of N-fertilizers is one of the most energy-intensive inputs for agriculture and generates about 55% of the fossil energy required for agricultural production.

Recent information on the influence of breeding on the BNF performance of leguminous plants and its relationship to the genetic yield potential is limited, because the measurement of BNF is difficult. An interesting group of methods for measuring BNF, which integrate it over the entire lifetime of the plant, are based on ratios of stable isotopes (15N/14N) in the plant substance. The heavier isotope 15N is enriched in organic matter and in the soil, and thus in N taken up from the soil, compared to N from the air. The detection of genotype differences requires fine gradations of the measured values in as large a measuring range as possible.

The initial goal is the development of test systems under controlled and field conditions, which allow differences in the BNF performance of genotypes of different leguminous species (commercial cultivars, gene bank material, wild species) to be determined, as well as the transfer of biologically fixed N to accompanying plants in mixed cultures with leguminous plants.

Dr. Christoph Germeier



Biomass potentials of Andean lupin and white lupin in intercropping systems for sustainable bioenergy production

Experimental field in the field, growing on each side in a row Andean lupins and corn. This is called mixed culture cultivation.
Intercropping of Andean lupin and maize as bioenergy crops
Trial plots individually harvested with a biomass harvester.

In this project we examine whether and to what extent the integration of lupins with high biomass potential into novel cultivation systems may allow to exploit ecosystem services of leguminous crops for energy crop cultivation. The system of intercropping Andean lupin (Lupinus mutabilis) with maize (Zea mays) is to be based on the breeding methodology of combining optimized partners that have been tested and selected for their suitability for combination with the respective complementary partner species.

This will result in a more sustainable biomass production and an increase in the crop species diversity in this area. The project aims at contributing to novel, more versatile crop rotations, higher diversity in the agricultural landscape and a gain in public acceptance of energy production.

The Thünen Institute of Organic Farming and the Professorship of Agrartechnology and Process Engineering of the University of Rostock as well as the Agricultural Institute (LLA) in Triesdorf as a subcontracted participant are our co-operation partners in this joint research project.

Dr. Steffen Roux

Adapting Andean lupin as a grain crop via pre-breeding

rows of lupin plants individually packed in plastic bags
Bagging flowers for controlled maintenance of selected breeding lines of Andean lupins in the field nursery
plots with lupins of various colours
Andean lupins may add colour to the agricultural landscape

Novel crops not originally native to Central Europe - such as Andean lupin (Lupinus mutabilis) - may help to increase crop diversity in European agriculture. To this end, though, they need to be adapted to local climatic and growing conditions via breeding efforts.

Presently, Andean lupin is adapted to local growing conditions to a quite limited extent. This is primarily  due to the specific day-length conditions in the geographic region of origin of L. mutabilis, which differ from those met in Central Europe. As a consequence, while this species appears interesting with regard to being used as a potential biomass crop on the short run, it has shortcomings in its applicability as a grain protein crop, at least under Germany’s growing conditions. This appears regrettable in the light that Andean lupin is outstanding among the lupin crop species with its relatively high protein and fat contents in the grain. To make use of these properties in regional agricultural systems it is necessary to further adapt this crop species to the growing conditions of Central Europe.

We are investigating the potentials of plant genetic resources of L. mutabilis to be used for grain production under local agricultural conditions. The focus of our interest is on traits such as earliness in flowering, grain set as well as even and timely seed ripening. Additionally, low vulnerability to plant diseases such as anthracnose is recorded. In a medium-termed pre-breeding approach, we are developing Andean lupin lines that exhibit increased grain-yield potential and, thus, may open up opportunities to breed a novel protein crop for our domestic agriculture.

Narrow-leafed lupin in agricultural practice – strong performance under appropriate growing conditions

Fig. 1: Fields of Blue – Narrow-leafed lupins at the experimental site of the Groß Lüsewitz JKI location
Fig. 2: Threshing NLL under field conditions

Sweet narrow-leaved lupin (NLL) has always had a reputation for being a crop species with low demands on the soil. This is correct inasmuch as NLL may still be a profitable crop on light soils where other crops fail.

The downside of this actually positive property of NLL is that over decades it has consolidated the widespread belief that this crop should exclusively be reserved for lower-quality locations. The practice of reserving NLL for cultivation sites of poor soil quality – which in Germany’s agriculture often means a soil value between 20 and 30 – is inevitably accompanied by low grain yields, especially in years with unfavourable weather conditions. This is one of the reasons why NLL yields fluctuate significantly over the years on those locations, with grain yields sometimes ranging well below 15 dt/ha in unfavourable years. Often enough, such yields are then compared to those of other grain legumes which demand (and, thus, are grown on) higher-yielding locations. Not surprisingly, NLL does poorly in such comparisons and, consequently, among farmers the reputation of NLL is tarnished.

For this reason, we are testing in the frame of a long-termed field trial which grain and protein yields can be achieved with NLL under good agricultural practice on a soil belonging to the medium-quality segment. We are doing this at the JKI experimental site of Groß Lüsewitz. As a diluvial (D) site with an average soil value of 47 and a mean precipitation of 353 mm (April to September), this location is of average agricultural quality. It is representative of the growing areas of the North German Plain, Western Poland and the Baltic Region. Since 2016, we have been cultivating a selection of 3 current varieties of NLL annually on larger plots (0.50–0.75 hectares per variety) under current practical management. It should be stressed that this single-site test is not comparable to the yearly state variety trials and, thus, is not meant to compare NLL varieties. Rather, yield data are recorded here which allow to assess yield potential and yield stability that can be realised under reasonable agricultural practice. We want to make available the results to farmers potentially interested in growing NLL as a protein crop and to the public.

Yield data determined in trial years 2016 – 2020

Summary of results from years 2016 – 2020:

These five years were characterised by quite unequal water supplies to the plant stocks. Precipitation ranged from "extremely too humid" to "extremely too dry". Nevertheless, the average grain yields achieved with NLL varieties at the D site at Groß Lüsewitz were stable at a high level beyond 30 dt/ha (or 28 dt/ha in the drought year 2018). The highest yields were recorded in 2020 with an average yield across the three varieties of 35.4 dt/ha and 40.8 dt/ha for the leading variety. The mean grain yields in the five single trials 2016 – 2020 were between 37 % and 74 % above the average yield (20.3 dt/ha) officially recorded for the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region in the period 2016 – 2019. With a mean protein content of 28.7 %, an average crude protein yield of 10.1 dt/ha was achieved in the trial year 2020.

These interim results from the first five years demonstrate that narrow-leafed lupin is able to deliver an attractive yield potential when grown under good agricultural practice and on a not-too-poor soil, and that this potential can be exploited with sufficient stability even under very divergent growth conditions such as extremely varying amounts of precipitation.

Our cultivation experiment is to be continued in the coming years. For more information you can contact us here (steffen.roux@  julius-kuehn.  de).