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Beet, Fodder, Oil & Fibre and Vegetables

The Herbage & Vegetable Crops Branch advises UK Government Departments on a range of plant variety testing and seeds matters and undertakes statutory work in variety registration and certification. Plant variety testing, and supporting functions, are outlined below in more detail.


The branch advises and liases with the Scottish Government Policy Branches and other UK Departments on variety registration legislation and tests for National List and Plant Breeders' Rights. Advice is also provided on related issues such as nomenclature, taxonomy and genetic resources.

Staff represent the interests of both the UK and Scotland at EU and other international meetings and contribute to characterisation guidelines published by UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) and IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute).

For further information contact Kevin O'Donnell.


New varieties of agricultural and horticultural crops have to be shown to be Distinct, Uniform and Stable (DUS) in officially controlled trials, prior to marketing in the European Union. DUS is also part of the requirement for awarding Plant Breeders' Rights.

DUS tests are conducted at SASA on a range of vegetable crops and 3 agricultural crops on behalf of the 4 United Kingdom Agricultural Departments, the European Community Plant Variety Rights Office, and for other countries.

For further information contact Lesley McCarthy.


The section supervises Herbage VCU trials, carried out for the Scottish Government by the Scottish Agricultural College. Staff represent the Scottish Government on the UK interdepartmental Herbage VCU group.

For further information contact George Campbell.


Since 1978, trials on herbage varieties have been carried out for The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), which incorporates the Welsh Plant Breeding Station (WPBS), Aberystwyth.

The trial site at Gogarbank is representative of a low rainfall area with a shorter growing season and lower winter temperatures than Aberystwyth. The primary aim of the selection work carried out at SASA is to produce varieties which are adapted to the environmental conditions of southern Scotland.

Selection and evaluation work is carried out on ryegrass species (perennial, Italian and hybrid), ryegrass x fescue hybrids, and white and red clover.

We are able to carry out characterisation and evaluation of herbage species on request.

For further information contact Russell Thomson.


We are involved in cultivated plant taxonomy and nomenclature through membership of the ISTA Nomenclature Committee, the International Association of Cultivated Plant Taxonomy and HORTAX, the UK-based horticultural taxonomy group.

For further information contact Lesley McCarthy.


  • Statutory seed reference collections - The section holds collections for all UK vegetable crops and for Field Pea, Swede and Turnip Rape. These mostly contain varieties in commercial trade within the UK or EU. Seed is only available to other DUS test and certification authorities.
  • Genetic Resource seed collections - The section holds collections for those crops tested for DUS. The UK Pisum Cultivar Collection is the largest and best documented. The collections contain seed of varieties no longer in commerce including heritage varieties, example varieties, 'host differential' lines for disease tests, mutants, genetic lines, land races and wild populations.
  • Seed storage - Small-seeded accessions and a representative sample from each Pea accession are stored at deep freeze temperatures (-18 to -22ºC). Peas are also stored at +2 to +4ºC. The section also stores a Safety Duplicate Collection for The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Wakehurst Place.
  • Variety Descriptions and Data - Official descriptions from UK and EC member states are maintained for all vegetable crops and for Field Pea, Turnip Rape and Swede which are tested at SASA and classified as Agricultural Crops under EU legislation. Other data (administrative, genetic, morphological, passport and physiological) are also maintained.
  • Descriptor Lists - Lists of Descriptors, used in registration tests by EC and UPOV member states and for characterisation for genetic resources, are maintained.

For further information contact George Campbell.


Research and development is carried out in support of the section's statutory work and mostly concerns improving the efficiency of DUS test methods and procedures. The use of new, or better defined, characters assists the discrimination and classification of new varieties; this results in smaller varietal groups in field trials.

Image Analysis, molecular techniques, photoperiodicity, taxonomy and nomenclature, statistical methodology and database development are the main areas of interest. Collaborative investigations, concerning characterisation or evaluation screening, may be carried out on contract.

For further information contact Kevin O'Donnell.


For further information see our training courses page.

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