12th September 2022

Crusoe wheat variety set to make dough for breadmakers

Clive Wreathall has taken quickly to Crusoe winter wheat impressed by its quality, disease resistance and ready milling market.

Despite a dismal harvest nationwide, he combined a bumper crop of Crusoe last summer which was grown on contract for Britain’s biggest breadmaker Warburtons.The new variety outperformed other well established bread wheats such as Solstice and Cordiale on his farm with a yield of 11.2t/ha signalling it could be the future foundation of the British loaf.

“On present form, Crusoe looks like being a successor to Solstice and looks like the kind of wheat we want to grow,” he says.On his rich silty moisture-retentive soils, the variety turned in a promising protein of 14%, a specific weight of 80-82kg/hl and a high hagberg to meet Warburtons 225 minimum. He is growing 40ha of Crusoe this season after a similar amount last year and is set for over 200ha this autumn to account for two-third of his first wheats.

Mr Wreathall summaries the variety’s benefits as producing a quality crop in a tough year, good septoria disease resistance, and stiff straw which is easy to combine and a ready end-market. He easily met the Warburtons milling criteria of 12.5% protein, 76 kg/hl specific weight and the 225 hagberg, and sold his crop at Christmas for £244/t, a then £30/t premium over feed wheat.

The backbone of his rotation at his 1,000ha Chapel Farm, Ivychurch, in southwest Kent, is bread wheat as he has never been able to get feed wheats to perform well. “If you can not grow big crops of bread wheats on our moisture retentive soil in the south east of England, then where can you grow them,” is his cropping philosophy.

Crusoe’s breeder, Limagrain UK, says it has been working with Warburtons and its supplier the British farming co-operative Openfield from an early stage to establish the variety’s breadmaking credentials. Wheat breeder Ron Granger says the variety offers higher yields together with better protein and disease resistance compared with Limagrain’s other well-known quality wheat Solstice, which has been around for 10 years.

Openfield is offering Crusoe on a Warburtons milling contract along with Solstice, Hereward and Edgar this autumn along with comprehensive agronomic advice to help growers get the most from the varieties. Tudor Dawkins, Openfield technical manager for Warburtons growers, says the variety can be grown as a first or second wheat with a yield and protein content ahead of Solstice and another breadmaker Gallant.

Its disease resistance is especially strong against yellow rust and mildew, while it has the highest resistance on the HGCA Recommended List with a score of 7 compared with a 5 for Solstice and Gallant, Dr Dawkins adds.

The variety first came onto the HGCA Recommended List for drilling in autumn 2012, and this autumn there should be plenty of seed available. Mr Wreathall believes that he could cut his nitrogen rate and possible fungicides costs after growing the variety successfully for one season.

Milling wheat contracts typically don’t pay for protein above the stated requirement and, in this case, Warburtons requires only 12.5% so after he achieved 14% last season he thinks he may be able to cut back on his three-way split of nitrogen application totalling 260kg/ha. He was clearly impressed by Crusoe’s higher resistance to wheat’s biggest yield-sapping disease, septoria, compared with Solstice.

“There was a huge visible difference between Crusoe and Solstice on the level of Septoria, but the biggest question is will it eventually breakdown,” he says. He follows a comprehensive four-spray fungicide policy through the spring and looks to cover any disease that might strike his crop. “If you aim to get £2,500/ha from your crops then you can afford to use a robust fungicide regime,” he says.

His plan is to ease Solstice out as a first wheat with two-third Crusoe and one-third Solstice planned for this autumn, while he will also try Crusoe out as a second wheat. He grows about 650ha of wheat in a rotation of two wheats followed by a break of oilseed rape, two further wheats then a further break of dried peas. Cordiale has proved a fail-safe second wheat, giving him “bomb-proof” quality, but if Crusoe gives him consistent quality then he will try it as a second wheat.

Crusoe was bought in as a Hereward replacement, but now could be a major wheat on his farm if it can give him the Holy Grail of wheat growers: consistent quality. “Crusoe looks like being the next generation after Solstice for the next five years or so,” he says.

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