A new Plant Breeding Station has recently been opened by LLC “DSV – Ukraina”, an affiliated company of Deutsche Saatveredelung AG (DSV), in a picturesque village of Dubiivka, the Cherkasy region. It is a landmark event for the small village because since now, it has received a status of an important agricultural scientific center in Ukraine. DSV is not just an investor, it is a leading German company specializing in plant breeding. It has a 90-year-old history and more than 800 varieties of crops, registered across the world.

Ukrainian risks? No, European perspectives

Despite the fact that our country is not very attractive for overseas investments, DSV invests in the agricultural development of Ukraine. Why? “DSV has a strict policy,” Ihor Haro, head of the Breeding and Crop Variety Testing Department in DSV Ukraina, and the head of the Plant Breeding Station says. “12% of the company money turnover is constantly being invested in its development. Ukrainian farmers have used DSV breeding achievements since 2010. That’s why the company doesn’t break its practice in Ukraine. It had been a long way until the station was founded. Until 2012, we had been already working in breeding. We started to build the station in 2016. It cost 550 thousand euro.

Speaking about the size of the station, we should say that the building covers 1500 square meters, more than 400 of them are taken by offices; about 1000 of them are a manufacturing area. The building has an area for hybrids keeping where special breeding appliances are used. To do all kinds of breeding work, the station is equipped with modern European appliances, which can be used for a particular small section. This year, there are more than 20 thousand sections for creating and testing new sorts and hybrids of rape plants, soybeans, and wheat. These are key crops in Ukraine; they are very popular with Ukrainian farmers. Except for it, we are going to create a modern lab for studying seeds etc. As for risks in our country… Yes, it is true that a political and economic situation in Ukraine is very fragile but despite this, the market is developing. Given the fact that our country is an active member of agricultural market relations, the DSV company actively invests in our country.”

A good work – a decent salary

Dubiivka was selected as a place for building the station through a thorough long-term analysis of climate and soil conditions. “Climate and soil of the Cherkasy region are the golden means in Ukraine,” Ihor Haro explains. “Moreover, Dubiivka has also a good transport junction, an administrative center of the Cherkasy region is situated nearby, and a cooperation with many local farms is established.”

Dubiivka residents are happy that DSV has chosen their village, as new jobs have appeared. Residents can get a decent job and a good salary. “Local people also work at our station,” the head of the station says. “We understand a state of the market so our salary is much higher than an average salary in the area. Workers have all the employment benefits. Today, we are analyzing better insurance programs. Of course, the company sometimes face bureaucracy obstacles towards its development in Ukraine. But there are no obstacles you can’t overcome if you want. We have a machine operator who used to work in Poland. But now he works at our station. He likes it here more than in Poland.”

Kateryna Butakova lives in Dubiivka and has been working in the DSV fields for about three years. “I like to work afield, I like to work with corns,” the woman smiles. “I select wheat, do gelding and crossbreeding. I learned it here. I am doing well.” A breeding work afield requires an ability to a meticulous work and a big responsibility. According to her bosses, Kateryna copes with her work successfully.

All employees who start their work at the station at first usually undertake a 2-3 month internship in Germany to learn how to work with the standards of the corporate parent. “There are criteria of work estimation in Germany. And we work at the same level with German stations. We don’t trail far behind. However, our skilled workers sometimes have problems with foreign languages. But we are working on that. As for the local people whom we have hired, they gained some German accuracy and work ethic. Given the fact they have a certain limit on their responsibility. We are obliged to provide a person with everything needed, and people are obliged to work well. There is a certain credit of trust of the corporate parent,” Ihor Haro says. “Our goal is to be up to all the DSV standards. We do understand that it is our future, our jobs.”

Breeding new varieties

“Today, a breed lives for 5-6 years on the market. It is sometimes shorter than the time used for its producing,” Yaroslav Riabovol, a specialist in crops breeding of the Plant Breeding Station, says. “A new variety takes 6-7 years to produce it. Sometimes it’s even 8. A delay can be caused by poor or abnormal weather conditions or retesting of a variety if it is needed. The good side of DSV technologies is that first steps of wheat and rape breeding are conducted in German greenhouses. It means we can get two harvests a year. In greenhouses, we can also do a crossbreeding of plants – it allows boosting a process.”

Interestingly that poor weather conditions can not only interfere with a breeding process but also can help in producing new varieties. “For example, this year, there was an abnormal dry weather in Kherson,” Yaroslav Riabovol explains. “Wheat even didn’t grow up. There were only green plants which soon fell down and dried up. But about 15% of the material survived. It is very good for breeding. We should work with this material to produce new drought-resistant varieties. We estimated drought-resistant abilities of the selected genotypes. Basing on them, we will breed new varieties for areas with poor humidity. In this case, nature helped to plant breeders. It was a great season for us.”

Breeding under the microscope

Until the 1980s, breeding was conducted almost blindly, at the population level. Namely, scientists were choosing the best samples of grown plants to get seeds from them. To grow them up the next year and take seeds for the next season. The process lasted until a plant breeder received the intended result. Later, breeders started to use a crossbreeding, namely, a hybridization. But breeders couldn’t see what was inside of a plant, at the cellular level. They selected samples visually, just those they liked and then crossbred them to produce a new variety.

Today, as genetics has developed, breeding has dramatically stepped forward. Scientists study all the material at the genetic level, make chromosome maps, select needed genes and gene lines to conduct crossbreeding with them. This procedure is allowed as there is no artificial penetration into a plant genome, no transgenic forms are created. But it allows producing new varieties, adapted to specific weather conditions, the ones that are decease and herbicides resistant.

“To breed new wheat and rape varieties, we have to crossbreed a high crop productivity of west European varieties with tolerance for winter conditions and drought-resistance of our crops. We are also working on making plants seedling disease, powdery mildew, brown and stripe rust resistant,” Yaroslav Riabovol says. “You know, 10 years ago, in Ukraine, it was a crops productivity which was appreciated more. Farmers didn’t pay much attention to quality. Today, the situation has changed. In our work, we focus both on a high productivity of new varieties and quality of a product.”

The Plant Breeding Station in Dubiivka is actively working and has already certain breeding achievements. It has become not only a landmark of the village but also a real agricultural scientific center. Its goal is to provide Ukrainian farmers with a decent seed material of high productivity and quality varieties.

Text and photo by Yulia Vovkodav

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