It’s important to look behind the headline yield figures and fully understand the robustness and consistency of the data to ensure on-farm performance, urges Ron Granger, arable technical manager with Limagrain UK.
It’s the consistency of a varieties performance over differing seasons that is key, and one that he encourages growers to understand better, rather than just going for the top-line yield.
“It’s all about choosing the genetics that will support your given farm situation and chosen market,” he says.
However, the ability of wheat varieties to withstand disease pressure can be very varied, with some genetics holding up well whilst other varieties succumb to the evolving race changes and more intense pressure.”
By looking at the five-year average yield results on the AHDB Recommended List, it is possible to see how a particular variety has performed over the last five seasons, he points out.
“This is more important than the performance for a single season, especially as we would appear to be in cycles of erratic weather patterns (for example 2012, 2014 & 2016) that all resulted in very high disease pressure seasons, continues Mr Granger.
“Whilst we don’t yet have the figures in for this year’s more catchy harvest, it’s clear to see by looking at the trends that certain varieties are more consistent than others. In my mind, it’s always better to grow a safe and consistent variety that has performed on farm, rather than rush into an unproven variety on the promise of an extra 1-2%.”
Andrew Gilchrist, managing director of Scottish Agronomy, agrees that there is value in being able to track a variety over a number of years. “In our trials, we always test a number of the key varieties for several years, alongside some of the newer material, and this allows us to benchmark their performance.”
“There is a danger with the RL that growers jump to the newest high yielding varieties on the back of a limited amount of data and inevitably there will be some blips where a variety does particularly well one year, but generally these are not sustainable.”
“At Scottish Agronomy, we would be looking for varieties that offer better disease resistance and do not need as much of a fungicide input as others; it is these varieties that offer the consistency in yield that we are looking for.”
With the dry weather, we had this spring; varieties have not been as challenged by disease, so it’s important not to be lulled into a false sense of security and to recognise this when deciding what to grow for next year, when we may not be so lucky. 2014 was not so long ago when we had a Septoria monster of a year.”
Consistent varieties for the north
Group 4 soft wheat Revelation has the highest disease resistance combination score on the AHDB RL and whilst it may not be as high yielding as some of the newer additions, it performs best in the north, and its all-round agronomic package makes it one of the safest varieties to grow on farm, says Mr Granger.
Revelation is later maturing and growers in the north may consider this a disadvantage, however spreading maturity on farm at harvest especially with a wet harvest like present is an important way of managing risk, and can offer some advantage with regards to grain quality, he adds.
Revelation continues to have an excellent disease resistance profile, which includes very good ratings for eyespot (8 *) and Fusarium (7), and along with additional agronomic characters such as very stiff straw means that it performs well as an early drilled wheat.
Good grain attributes make Revelation suitable for a range of marketing options and it has approval for distilling and export.
Group 3 wheat, Zulu also performs particularly well in the north, yielding 102% over control, and whilst this is not as high as some of the newer Group 3’s, Zulu has shown itself to be consistent over seasons, regions, rotational position and soil types proving good resilience in very erratic climatic conditions, and the variety has excellent ear fertility, points out Mr Granger.
Zulu has a sound agronomic package offering growers similar security to old favourite Claire, but with the advantage of OWBM. Zulu can be sown early in the north and has shown good tillering ability. Its robust disease resistance to septoria (6) supports this situation.
“However, it is important to manage the variety for yellow rust, which is relatively straight forward with a well-timed fungicide programme.”
Currently, the premiums on offer for biscuit-making wheats are more attractive than those for the Group 1’s, so it’s certainly worth considering growing for this market, he says.
“Unlike newcomers to this Group, Basset and Barrel, Zulu has the added benefit of being approved for several markets, making it popular with end-users; it is suitable for the biscuit, cake making and UK distilling markets as well as having approval for UK’s soft wheat for export.”
“The reality is that we don’t know what the next season is going to throw at us; there are so many unknowns in this game – grain prices, weather patterns, disease pressure and even the impact of Brexit. Start by minimising risk wherever possible, choosing the right wheat variety by looking behind the yield headlines and concentrating on farm security and marketing options that the variety offers.”