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.