Ian Foot: a pioneer in bringing quality wheats to market
Quality wheat breeding is losing a renowned figure as Ian Foot retires from the world of flour functionality and baking at leading plant breeders Limagrain UK, where he has headed up the quality wheat programme for the last 30 years.

Ian FootWhilst Ian Foot’s retirement marks the end of an era, it also marks the beginning of a new chapter, led by a passionate and skilled successor. As the torch is passed on to Ewa Lagowska, the spirit of innovation and excellence in wheat quality breeding continues to thrive at Limagrain UK.

Ian had an unconventional start to his journey in science. He didn’t like his history teacher at school, so he opted to take biology instead!

Ewa LagowskaThis led him to pursue biology at higher education, firstly at the Northeast Surrey College of Technology and subsequently at the West of Scotland Agricultural College, where Ian’s six-month industrial placement turned into a transformative few years at Throws Farm.

During this time, Ian not only gained valuable practical knowledge but also discovered his true calling. He returned to his studies with newfound zeal and completed a degree in agriculture, specialising in Crop Production. Armed with his newly acquired knowledge, he landed a position at Twyford Seeds, where he managed seed quality and pathology labs.

Bread loaves quality testing at Woolpit Breeding facility at Limagrain UKHowever, it was all change in the early 1990’s, when he found himself working for plant breeders Nickerson, who at that time had recently been acquired by Limagrain. Here he had the privilege of working under the mentorship of the esteemed wheat breeder, Bill Angus. Under Bill’s guidance, Ian honed his skills and became deeply involved in quality wheat breeding.

Ian took on the role of quality wheat manager, where he played a crucial role in developing quality programs that bridged the gap between end-user requirements and wheat breeding for the bread and biscuit sectors.

Working closely with wheat breeder Ron Granger, Ian spearheaded the development of the leading milling variety, Crusoe. Collaborating with the baker, Warburtons, Ian and his team had set out to find a wheat variety that could potentially replace the popular variety, Hereward. This variety had to meet Warburtons’ stringent quality requirements, including the quality of the flour, its functionality, baking performance and colour. For a variety to make a Group 1, it needs to deliver all this consistently.

The creation of Crusoe was a triumph. It not only met Warburtons’ high standards but also proved to be a resounding success in the market.

Today, more than a decade later, Crusoe remains one of the leading quality wheats, a testament to Ian’s visionary work and it has just been awarded the NIAB Variety Cup. NIAB awards - Crusoe, Ian Foot and Ron Granger

Ian Foot remains modest about his achievements and acknowledges the challenges of quality wheat breeding. The complexity of the task, with numerous independent variables to consider, makes it rare for a variety to tick all the boxes and endure in the competitive market.

Nevertheless, Ian’s passion for science, dedication to his craft, and commitment to improving agriculture have left a lasting impact on the industry and earned him a well-deserved place among the pioneers of quality wheat breeding.

LG GatePost Newsletter – June 2023
The June 2023 issue of LG GatePost is now available to download.

This edition features articles about our newest wheat addition to the 2023-24 AHDB Recommended List, LG Redwald, as well as LG Caravelle, our excellent 2-row winter feed barley.

You can read about and view our Live Panel event which was a round table discussion on Varieties, Soils and Policy with industry experts.

We discuss the new Sustainable Farming Incentives and the new ‘actions’ involved, with an article about why to consider establishing a legume fallow.

There is also information about our upcoming Demo Days and a link to register.

Download the June edition here, and don’t forget to claim your BASIS and/or NRoSO points for reading it.

LG GatePost – June 2023

LG Live Panel – Varieties, Soils & Policy

On 21st March, LG’s Ron Granger and Tom Barker were joined by industry experts, Tim Parton (Farm Manager, Staffordshire) and Susan Twining (CLA Advisor) for a live Q&A round table discussion on Varieties, Soils & Policy.

Key Questions raised…

1. Do you still think yield is king? Are breeders, such as Limagrain, breeding varieties specifically for a regen system?

RON GRANGER: “Yield will always be important because farmers have to make an income. But the key issue going forward is around yield security, especially with our changing climate. For example, the capability of a plant to withstand spring droughts is now becoming an increasingly important factor.”

“Robust disease resistance also has a key part to play – we are currently seeing the fruition of stacking genes in both Septoria and rust resistances. Resistance to pests is also key.”

“Most growers have been adopting some form of regenerative practise for the last 5 years, so we are in a position where growers are able to tell us, as breeders, what they want from varieties to suit a regen system for the future.”

“Generally, varieties for regen have been chosen from the present AHDB RL – which is not a problem. However, as breeders, we can look at the germplasm in our programme and identify varieties that will better suit a direct drilling, wide-row situation.”

2. What type or size of crop rotation is likely to be needed to sustain regenerative farming? Do you use companion cropping?

TIM PARTON: “I try to extend my rotation as much as possible and split spring to winter cropping by 50:50, to allow for as much cover cropping as possible. It’s the cover cropping that is key to the system and this brings in the variety of plants above and roots below the soil.”

“Companion cropping is important, particularly in OSR, where I grow white, berseem and crimson clover in the crop, to take it through. Nature doesn’t monocrop and plant diversity is key.”

3. Should regen ag be certified?

SUSAN TWINING: “At the CLA , we have looked closely at this, and decided that it is not something that we would advocate for at this stage, if ever. Regen farming is about a set of principles which allows for flexibility, depending on the farming situation etc. In certifying this, it would become a tick box exercise – which makes it a completely different concept.”

“ELMS offer a good suite of options to reward farmers for good practise. We already have the Soils SFI, the IPM, and Nutrient Management SFI’s coming out later this year.”

 

You can watch the full version HERE

LG Denmark Study Tour

In the spring, Limagrain took a group of UK growers to Denmark, to look at regenerative and conservation agricultural practices.

After two full days of visiting farms, agronomy companies and a plant breeder, there was some very interesting and surprising feedback:

GEORGE ATKINSON, LINCOLNSHIRE: “It’s been fascinating to see all the different farming systems, and also learn about Danish policies that contradict themselves. I was expecting to come and see the future, but some of the growers are where we were 15 to 20 years ago.”

AL BROOKS, HAMPSHIRE: “I came here with a preconceived idea that we were going to learn something from the Danes in terms of their view towards conservation and regenerative agriculture. I was stunned by the amount of red tape they are subjected to. They are constricted in the industry and don’t have the voice with government.”

TIM PARTON, STAFFORDSHIRE: “I think the government advisors in Denmark need to take a real hard look at what they are trying to achieve, and what their directives are. They are so restrictive; they are missing out on the big benefits they could be getting from regenerative and conservation agriculture. They need to help their farmers more, rather than restrict them.”


“Discovering that UK farming practice with regards to conservation agriculture or regen is ahead of Denmark, was a surprise to many on the trip, and a real positive take home message for the UK.

It’s very noticeable that plant breeding is paramount to the future direction of agriculture, as practices move towards lower input and better disease resistances. Limagrain look forward to sharing what we do with growers from the UK and abroad,” says Tom Barker of Limagrain, who hosted the trip.

Download the latest edition of LG GatePost here

Survey reveals variety decisions driven by regional trials information

Arable farmers favour local variety trials over national demonstrations when making crucial decisions about what varieties to grow next season, a survey by plant breeders Limagrain UK reveals.

The online questionnaire shows the overwhelming majority (86%) regard the information they gain from regional variety demonstrations as being more relatable than from national events.

Tom Barker, Cereals and Pulses Product Manager

Tom Barker, Cereals and Pulses Product Manager

“This is mainly because local events offer the chance to see how new and existing varieties perform in local soils, climate, and disease situations,” comments Limagrain UK cereals and pulses product manager, Tom Barker.

“Indeed,43% of farmers responding to the survey have attended a regional event with variety trials in the past 12 months, compared with just 28% that have attended a national event, such as Cereals or Arable Scotland.”

“Around one quarter have taken part in an online trials webinar, such as those organised by AHDB, or NIAB TAG.”

“Three-quarters of growers are prepared to travel up to an hour or more to attend a regional variety trial, and alongside location and practical considerations, such as date and time, the quality of technical information on offer is a major factor influencing the decision to attend,” he says.

This shows growers value the opportunity to gather technical information on individual varieties, and how to grow them, he points out, although of particular interest is the ability to compare treated and untreated plots to see first hand how varietal characteristics stand up to seasonal pressures.

“Other areas of interest include; late versus early drilling comparisons, different methods of establishment, alternative fungicide programmes, and trace element/ micronutrient work.”

As might be expected, winter wheat varieties are generally of most interest, followed by winter barley, spring barley, oilseed rape, then a host of other minor crops.

“It is also clear from the survey that, while growers take information from a range of sources when making variety decisions, including independent bodies, breeders, agronomists, and seed merchants, the vast majority (93%) would confidently select a variety based on what they had seen or learned at a variety trial,” says Mr Barker.

“We organised the survey to find out what growers want from trials events, and how we can tailor them to their needs in the future.”

“It shows that growers base their varietal decision making on what they see or learn at demonstrations and trials, with regional events once again proving their worth as a place growers can go to gain knowledge and understanding of varieties.”


Summer Demo Days

Recognising the importance of local information when making variety choices, Limagrain UK hosts a series of events around the country every year.

This summer’s programme during June and July features five locations, from our milling wheat demonstration on the Essex coast near Maldon, up to the Perth winter wheat trials in central Scotland (see panel for details of all events).

Every demonstration will showcase a range of new and existing varieties, alongside five new Candidate wheat varieties currently going through Recommended List approval. These include two potential biscuit wheats, LG Arkle and LG Grendel, and two hard feed wheats, LG Beowulf – the highest yielding feed wheat Candidate – and LG Redrum.

Limagrain UK’s Rothwell site will also feature the new winter barley Candidate LG Capitol, plus the highest yielding two-row feed, LG Caravelle, which joined the RL this year.

Click here to head to our Events page, where all of our Summer Demo Days are listed – ‘SIGN UP’ to get involved!

Spring Barley agronomy series
Introducing our Spring Barley AgRONomy video series, with commentary and technical advice from Limagrain UK Arable Technical Manager, Ron Granger. 

 

The videos take you through how to identify the local market requirements, to variety choice, drilling dates and seed rates, with the 5th video providing tips on how to maintain a higher tiller number.

The final video is an interview with Spring Barley grower, David Bell of Fife, Scotland as he chats with LG about his YEN (Yield Enhancement Network) award winning spring barley crop, LG Diablo. David reveals the secret to his success with YEN over the years and how in 2020 he won the spring barley YEN with LG Diablo with an eye-watering yield of 13.4 tonnes a hectare. He discusses how he is using direct drilling and reduced tillage within his rotation, along with a plough-based system for his potatoes and break crops. The grower also shares how it’s important to be open to learning and engaging with the experts at Limagrain, alongside understanding your own soils and your own fields.

You can view the entire series here.

YEN Innovation Award winner
This year, to mark 10 years of the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), a new Innovation Award has been commissioned which was presented at the YEN conference on 24th January. The award is for an outstanding contribution to on-farm innovation and has been sponsored by Limagrain.

“Limagrain has been an active supporter of YEN since its inception so it seems only fitting that we sponsored the Innovation Award for the 10th anniversary conference,” says Limagrain’s Arable Marketing Manager, Will Charlton.

“As a company that invests in UK based breeding activities for all major arable crops, innovation is a core value of our business. Alongside bringing new varieties to market, we invest a considerable amount of time and money in examining how our varieties perform in different farming systems. Over the years YEN has been invaluable in helping us facilitate this work by providing a structure and detailed analysis to aid Limagrain’s collaborations with innovative farmers across the country.”

The standard of nominations was exceptionally high with all the farmers demonstrating a passion for progress, learning and collaboration. However, there could only be one winner. The award was presented by Limagrain’s Arable Technical Specialist, Liam Wilkinson. 

Liam Wilkinson and Russ McKenzie

“I’m delighted to announce that Russ McKenzie, farm manager of DJ Tebbit and John Sheard Farms, has won the YEN innovation Award. Russ has demonstrated his commitment to YEN by being one of the few farmers to provide an entry every year since YEN began.

In particular, the judges were impressed by his recent on farm trials work which has sought to investigate fungicide, nutrition and variety interactions under his own establishment system, utilising the latest digital and molecular diagnostics, alongside a trials plot combine to analyse the results. The complexity of his trials required dedication and a significant time commitment throughout a busy growing season. The data generated has provided valuable insights into how different inputs interact and influence a farming system.”

Variety choice is central to risk management

Using variety choice to manage on-farm risk should be a top priority for growers when finalising variety choices for the coming season, according to breeders Limagrain UK.

Speaking at a recent variety demonstration at the Limagrain Woolpit site in Suffolk, arable technical specialist, Liam Wilkinson, urged growers to take a whole-farm approach to risk management when deciding what to grow. There were many ways that varieties could be used to manage risk, from selecting those with different maturities to mitigate the impact of unsettled weather around harvest, to choosing varieties with strong disease resistance scores based on a diverse genetic background, he said. “Don’t look at any one aspect in isolation; mitigating risk has got to be based on whole-farm factors.” Yield results from local trials (treated and untreated), grain quality suitability for different end markets, fungicide response, growth habit in autumn and spring, and other agronomic traits, were all important factors to consider, Jonathan Payne of Nickerson Seeds added. “The type of drilling system you use, whether that’s wide or narrow rows, may be something else that affects the most suitable variety to choose.” A variety like RL Candidate LG Redwald, for example, offers huge biomass and tillering capacity, making it well suited to wide row direct drilling or min-till systems, using lower seed rates. The variety offers a yield potential of 106%, but can also be used for whole-crop forage, given the large biomass potential. This could allow ground to be cleared early, or be part of a grass-weed control strategy. “The key is to identify your hopes and expectations for 12 months’ time and plan variety choices depending on what you want to achieve.” After another dry spring and early summer, drought risk was once again top of many growers’ minds, Mr Wilkinson noted. “For drought-prone sites, generally you need a taller variety which is quick to get going in the spring, combined with early maturity and good grain quality, such as LG Skyscraper.” “On the whole, higher-yielding varieties are generally getting taller, and we find these have better resilience in droughty situations, although growers need to manage them properly through the season.”

 

Safe option

For those growing milling wheats, Mr Wilkinson said Crusoe remained the safe option from a quality perspective, given its stable Hagberg, high inherent protein content and proven farm and end user performance, during a more than a decade on the Recommended List. He acknowledged growers should be mindful of brown rust risk, but said this was generally easier to control than yellow rust, which was a much greater threat in several other varieties. In contrast, Crusoe’s yellow rust resistance score remains at 9. This strong yellow rust resistance had been passed on through Limagrain’s breeding programme to other varieties, such as LG Detroit, which was the only Group 2 wheat to offer Orange Wheat Blossom Midge (OWBM) resistance, alongside stiff straw and good grain quality, with similar performance to Crusoe in some mills. “Midge resistance is a fantastic trait that we know is effective, with no yield deficit. If you’re going to push a Group 2 type variety for milling potential, then this is the one I’d go for.” Among the increasingly crowded Group 3 sector, Mr Wilkinson picked out LG Astronomer as being an “all-round safe package”, that combined excellent grain quality with robust disease resistance and other good agronomics that would help manage risk on farm. Importantly, its three-way parentage of (Cougar x Leeds) x Britannia, has proven to be far more robust than other varieties against the Cougar Septoria strains seen last season, resulting in it remaining one of the best Group 3’s for Septoria resistance on the RL. “LG Astronomer likes being drilled a bit earlier and generally needs decent bodied land to get the best out of the variety. The biscuit premium might not be as attractive as that from Group 2’s, but with LG Astronomer, it’s one that can be achieved with no extra agronomic input required.” The Group 4 variety LG Typhoon was another new variety that ticked a lot of boxes for managing risk, Mr Wilkinson said. It combines high yield potential with excellent disease resistance, stiff straw and OWBM resistance. “Typhoon’s Septoria resistance comes from Irish parentage and is one of the highest scores available on the RL. It also has the stacked genes for yellow rust resistance, using the most robust genetics we’ve got. There’s been a lot of demand for it already, particularly in the West.” LG Typhoon’s strong genetics could buy useful flexibility around key spray timings, and potentially allow for some savings depending on disease pressure, he said. “The variety suits earlier drilling situations due to its spring growth habit, and is rated +2 for maturity, so it’s well worth investing in the T3.”


Local trials inform decisions

Suffolk grower Peter Mahony was one of several farmers who valued the benefits of being able to see how varieties performed in local conditions, rather than having to rely on National Trials information. Mr Mahony farms around 220 ha (560 acres) of owned and contracted land near Rattlesden, south of Woolpit, growing 35 ha of LG Skyscraper, alongside Gleam, LG Mountain winter barley and sugar beet, on mainly clay loam soils. This autumn will be his first year direct drilling, so he was particularly interested to see which varieties might suit that system. “Big National Trials have less relevance to what’s going on at our farm, whereas seeing how a range of varieties fare in our soil type and growing conditions is far more useful. Plus we also value being able to talk to the breeders and get their opinions on things like drilling date or optimum seed rate. “We’ve been growing Limagrain varieties for many years,” he added. “Knowing they’ve been bred just down the road from us gives us confidence that they should be well suited to our growing conditions on the farm.”

Award-winning growers offer nitrogen strategy tips for successful milling wheat

The hike in input costs and grain prices has raised stakes when it comes to optimising nitrogen strategy, particularly for growers targeting quality milling wheat.


Limagrain UK asked the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners from the 2021 Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) Milling Wheat Quality Awards, to explain how they manage nitrogen to maximise both yield and quality. All three growers grew proven Group 1 wheat Crusoe; a variety that has become a firm favourite amongst millers since its launch 11 years ago.

Yorkshire farmer and Gold award winner, Peter Trickett, has been growing Crusoe since 2014, and believes it is suited to his location and soils.

Despite the YEN field getting flooded in November 2020, his Crusoe went on to yield 11.24 t/ha, at 13.2% protein and 337 Hagberg.

“We first grew milling wheat here 20 years ago and in most years the crop has achieved full milling specification.” Variety choice is a key part, but so is the focus on maximising and protecting yield potential and quality by keeping crops standing, giving them sufficient nitrogen, harvesting promptly and drying quickly, he says. Last year’s late September-sown Crusoe received 300 kg N/ha in total, in four splits.

Essex farmer Richard Carr started growing Crusoe in 2013 and is very pleased with how it performs, having achieved milling specification every year.

Richard Carr has been growing Crusoe since 2013

Richard Carr

His YEN crop produced the highest protein of all entries at 14.1%, plus 369 Hagberg and specific weight of 77.2 kg/hl. “We’ve had several years at 14% protein and Hagbergs are usually in the 300’s.”

He puts much of the success down to the farm’s silty clay soils and rotation especially, as break crops such as lucerne and beans can leave high levels of residual nitrogen.

His continuous wheats typically receive 200 kg N/ha, whilst most first wheats usually get 170-190 kg N/ha, in four splits.

In Suffolk, farm manager Edward Vipond turned to Crusoe in a bid to help stabilise grain proteins. Mr Vipond says “We’ve found it is easier to achieve the protein we need from Crusoe.” His third placed YEN Crusoe produced a yield of 10.27 t/ha, 12.4% protein, 350 Hagberg and a specific weight of 78.5 kg/hl.

Edward Vipond turned to Crusoe to help stabilise grain proteins

Edward Vipond

In total, the crop received 280 kg N/ha, in four splits from February to early June. “It’s important to keep crops fed throughout the main growing period, so we make sure the gap between splits doesn’t extend to any more than four weeks.

Crusoe is a straightforward variety to grow, with the assurance that it will achieve the protein content that millers require.”

Look behind the Septoria headlines

Ed Flatman – Head of European Wheat Research

As a result of the perfect ‘Septoria storm’ this spring, many wheat varieties have seen their Septoria resistance ratings drop. Whilst this has mostly affected varieties with Cougar in their parentage, it is important to look at the detail behind each individual varieties’ genetics to fully understand the risk, says Ed Flatman, Head of European Wheat Research for Limagrain.

“It’s very easy to panic and group all the varieties with Cougar parentage into the same risk level – but this is not the case – and growers should take the time to really understand the risks to individual varieties,” he says.

“Parentage is a good indicator, however varieties do not inherit all the traits of both parents, therefore it’s important to understand the attributes of the new variety itself.”

Mr Flatman takes the example of the Group 3 biscuit, LG Astronomer. “The most recent additions to the Group 3’s last year all have Cougar in their parentage. LG Astronomer was one of these, and joined the group, offering the highest Septoria resistance rating of 7.4.”

Mr Flatman explains that on paper, with Cougar in its parentage, it is a (Leeds X Cougar) X Britannia cross, therefore LG Astronomer was likely to be one of the varieties affected.

“However, whilst other varieties in the group have seen their Septoria resistance ratings severely challenged by the Cougar strain, LG Astronomer’s genetics held on relatively well and its rating has only dropped from 7.4 to 6.8 on the current three-year rating, and 6.2 for the one-year (2021) rating.”

“This puts LG Astronomer as one of the highest rated Group 3 varieties for Septoria resistance, on both the new Recommended List three-year rating and the one-year (2021) rating.”

“It has not been as affected as other varieties in the group – and this is an important differentiation.”

“We know that relying on a single gene is a risky approach, but a lot of knowledge has been gained over the years, and rather than solely using field observations, we now use these in combination with molecular strategies to actively stack multiple resistances together to protect the individual lines, and this is the case with LG Astronomer.”

“As breeders, our focus is looking at overall resilience, and this includes protecting the resistances we have, as well as bringing through new lines that don’t come at the cost of yield.”

Protecting Septoria resistance ratings in the field

 

NIAB first looked at the Cougar isolates in an AHDB project in 2015 (and this has been furthered by a study conducted at Teagasc), which confirmed that these isolates were also virulent to a range of Cougar based varieties.

NIAB’s crop protection and agronomy specialist, Dr Aoife O’Driscoll explains: “A key point is that not all isolates are virulent to all varieties, which is why we have seen a range of responses across varieties with Cougar parents.”

Independent studies have shown that Cougar isolates are similar in fungicide sensitivity to the wider Septoria population, and there have been no significant shifts in azole sensitivity this season.

“Septoria should not be more difficult to control in terms of fungicide sprays, if programmes are timed properly. Growers should take confidence in this when planning their fungicide programmes this spring.”

NIAB supports the resistance ratings put forward by AHDB this autumn and Dr O’Driscoll recommends planning fungicide programmes based on the one-year (2021) rating, rather than the three-year rating.

 

 
LG Typhoon – Flying onto the Recommended List

LG Typhoon is a high yielding group 4 hard wheat, that joins the 2022-2023 AHDB Recommended List, from breeders Limagrain UK.

LG Typhoon offers UK growers the package that they have been asking for in a hard wheat; a clean, consistent and resilient variety, with a solid all-round disease package and OWBM resistance.

It has shown excellent consistency of performance, yielding 102% across very differing climatic seasons and across the varying regions of the UK.

Yield consistency

    Regions Years
  UK East West North 2019 2020 2021
LG Typhoon 102 102 102 [102] 102 [102] 102

[ ] = limited data.  

“LG Typhoon offers growers flexibility in the rotation, across both sowing date and soil type,” says Ron Granger, Limagrain UK’s arable technical manager. “The variety exhibits a genuine suitability for the earlier sowing situation, endorsed by its combination of desirable agronomic characteristics – and this is reflected in its very high yield performance at this drilling window.” “LG Typhoon also excels as a second wheat.”

  Rotation Sowing Date Soil Type
  First cereal Second cereal Early Sep (before 25Sept) Trials sown (25Sept-31Oct) Late (after 1Nov) Light Soils Heavy Soils
LG Typhoon 101 104 [105] 102 [101] [102] 101
Graham 102 101 100 102 100 102 101

[ ] = limited data.  

The reason for LG Typhoon’s consistent performance comes down to its excellent all-round foliar disease resistance, explains Mr Granger. “This is shown by an untreated yield that is above many of the RL feed varieties, supported by a resistance rating of 7 for Septoria – which significantly comes from a combination of sources different to those in current RL varieties,” he says. “LG Typhoon offers excellent yellow rust resistance, with a RL rating of 9 combined with YR seedling resistance – a valuable tool regarding fungicide programmes and timings.” “The variety offers more than excellent yellow rust ratings; it is an attractive proposition with good ratings for all the diseases, including (6) for eyespot and Fusarium, and the very valuable bonus of Orange Wheat Blossom Midge (OWBM) resistance.” Mr Granger adds: “In terms of grain quality, LG Typhoon offers a good specific weight (76.3 kg/hl), certainly equal or indeed better than many of the feed wheats on the new RL.”

Limagrain UK’s wheat breeder, Phil Tailby, summarises the main traits of LG Typhoon

Lessons learned throughout a challenging season

Tom Barker, Cereals and Pulses Product Manager for Limagrain UK, believes varieties must be as reliable as a farmer’s telehandler.

Tom Barker

Growers are unlikely to look back on the 2019/20 season with many happy memories. It was a crop year of extremes in heat and rainfall coupled with cold and wind, which all combined to challenge every UK farming business.

Specific weather events included the hottest summer’s day on 25th July at 38.7°C in Cambridge, the 5th warmest April since 1884, and autumn rainfall records being broken in areas such as Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire.

The combinations of these factors made autumn plantings extremely challenging, leading to the changing of cropping plans. All autumn plantings were significantly lower with wheat down by 25% and barley 34%. Conversely, spring barley was up by 52% to over 1 million hectares.

Agronomists had a testing year for advice, recommendations and field walking. Toby Clack from Farmacy says “the push to drill later due to black grass and pest pressure, narrowed the winter drilling window. We then had the wettest autumn for many seasons which meant conditions were completely unfavourable for good establishment of winter cereals. Crops went into the spring with poor rooting and were hampered further by unseasonal dry weather.”

What lessons could growers take from such a challenging year? Ed Flatman, Limagrain UK’s Senior Wheat Breeder has drawn some conclusions on the importance of consistency and robustness in varieties, particularly LG Skyscraper. “The driver is not only the ease of production,” Ed says, “it’s as much about having flexibility and reassurance when conditions constrain the grower’s ability to manage the crop.”

“Disease resistance works together with the chemistry, but when weather delays spraying, genetic resistance buys some time and limits yield loss. Growers with large areas to cover or dispersed blocks of land, can give priority to varieties that need more attention, leaving more secure ones lower down the spray list.”

“There is generally greater variability in seasons with prolonged periods of wet or dry, with the most reliable varieties being able to be more tolerant and still perform. It largely comes down to security, whether it is too wet to travel or the wrong conditions for the chemistry to be safely and effectively applied.”

“In general, the most consistent varieties tend not to be extreme for speed of development, tillering or ear emergence but sit in the middle ground.”

“Good indicators of consistency are bold high specific grain weight and the ability to yield well as a second wheat; key attributes of LG Skyscraper. The ability to establish in a difficult seed bed, have good resistance to diseases carried over in the stubble, and develop a strong root system, are also important,” Ed adds.

LG Skyscraper has been a standout performer for consistency since its recommendation, and has yielded 103-105% above control varieties, with a specific weight between 77 and 78 kg/hl.

Suffolk farmer Peter Over was very pleased with his crop of LG Skyscraper. “In a difficult year, it was one of the plus points,” Peter says. “The variety got away well, stood up to the drought and looked good all year. I was pleased with the yield of straw and will be growing it again.”

The 2019/20 season will live long in the memory. If the climate continues to shift towards hotter, drier summers and cooler, wetter winters, varieties that perform consistently over several seasons through different environmental factors will become key.

Like the telehandler that starts first time, operates effortlessly in every situation and isn’t constantly in the workshop, varieties need to be equally as reliable, dependable and consistent.