Getting the most out of top-yielding feed wheat KWS Santiago means accepting that it isn’t the same type of plant as Oakley. Louise Impey finds out more.

Don’t be fooled by KWS Santiago’s very slow autumn development and unusual growth pattern, warns the company’s agronomy manager Bob Simons.

“Drilling it before mid-September isn’t a good idea,” he says. “In March, it suddenly speeds up and produces big, leafy tillers. If it’s gone in too early, these can become tricky to manage, especially considering that it’s quite tall.”

That’s in contrast to its open growth habit at the start of the season, he stresses. “It’s like a switch being turned on, but it’s one of the last varieties to move in the spring. It doesn’t produce more tillers than others, just plenty of leaf and big plants.”

Seed rates are important and should be kept close to those that have been used for Oakley, he advises. “But the difference between them is that KWS Santiago doesn’t fit into the early September drilling slot. So be sparing with the seed, to avoid it getting too big and too leggy.”

His colleague, John Miles, points out that there are a number of Recommended List wheat varieties that appear to be similar.

“That doesn’t mean they are. Growers who want to concentrate on producing big heaps of feed wheat across a range of drilling dates should sow Oakley first, followed by KWS Santiago and then Conqueror.

“While Oakley has proved itself to be very robust and consistent in all situations, we don’t yet know if KWS Santiago is the same. So introduce it slowly, rather than making a complete change over.”

Its low Hagberg of 138 has restricted its recommendation to the east and west regions, he acknowledges, but that doesn’t mean that it’s prone to sprouting.

“The tendency for low-Hagberg soft wheats to sprout isn’t seen in the hard wheats. KWS Santiago has a resistance-to-sprouting score of six, which is the same as Oakley and as good as most.”

Its specific weight is also low at 74.5kg/hl, but is above the feed wheat minimum of 72, he adds. “Using the right seed rate will help to keep it there.”

Once KWS Santiago has started its rapid spring growth, it will respond well to both plant growth regulators (PGRs) and fungicides, says Mr Simons.

“You will need two or three applications of PGRs, depending on local conditions and site fertility, and should consider the use of a Terpal-type (chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat) product.

“It’s the same as Oakley in terms of stiffness, but the larger canopy means you may have to be more vigilant. The baseline advice is full rate chlormequat plus Moddus, with a late Terpal treatment used on fertile sites.”

A robust fungicide programme will also be required, he stresses. “It’s better on yellow rust than Oakley with a rating of six, but it still needs treating. It did get the disease both last year and this, although the severity varied from site to site.”

Fortunately, the disease is easy to manage and KWS Santiago does give you a few more days than Oakley to get on top of it, he adds.

But Lee Bennett, national seeds manager at Openfield doesn’t have the same confidence in its yellow rust rating. “Be aware that this season it has behaved as though it has a three or four for the disease.”

Spray intervals must be observed if the extra 2% yield that the variety offers is to materialise. “Use good fungicide products with activity on both septoria and rusts. It only has a four for brown rust and a five for septoria tritici, as well as a four for eyespot, so there’s no escaping a four spray regime.”

Describing it as a high-input, high-output variety is accurate, he acknowledges. “It’s a variety for this time and should more than repay a high-input approach.”

There are two other characteristics of KWS Santiago that Mr Simons highlights. “It is two or three days later to mature than Oakley, which is all the more reason for phasing it in gradually across the farm.

“It is also resistant to orange wheat blossom midge, which means it will appeal to existing Oakley growers. There’s simply no need to put on the extra spray.”

Mark Hemmant of Agrovista advises growers to try KWS Santiago in the first wheat position. “We don’t know how robust it is yet – it may turn out not to be as bombproof as Oakley.”

His company is trialling the variety on light land, to see if early drilling dates can be used successfully. “It’s being marketed for heavier soils, but growing it on lighter land may help to take some of the sting out of it. Time will tell.”

KWS Santiago

• Drill from mid-September

• Use similar seed rate to Oakley

• Resonds well with PGR

• Likely to need four-spray fungicide programme