A rating system for the suitability of sugar beet and wheat varieties for drought-prone land is in development, Eric Ober of Broom’s Barn research station said.

Data from official UK variety trials was being evaluated to discover current varieties that showed drought tolerance or susceptibility as part of a wider project to breed new varieties with improved drought tolerance or water use efficiency, he explained.

Overall yields at sites with a higher drought stress index, a measure based on soil type and rainfall, were lower, but initial results showed there were sugar beet varieties, for example Cinderella, that tended to yield better relatively higher in drier conditions, he said.

In contrast, the preliminary data suggested Palace was drought susceptible, while Opta was relatively consistent, giving above-average yields across all sites.

A similar study was under way for wheat varieties, he confirmed.

More data was required to decide whether the findings were robust enough to include in published variety trial information.

That wasn’t always straightforward to obtain, particularly for sugar beet varieties that change quickly. “We’re also dependent on getting the right weather to evaluate them.”

Wheat varieties were also more complicated to evaluate, particularly determining the effect of drought at different growth stages, he pointed out.

But he envisaged drought tolerance eventually being a criterion that growers could sort varieties by on the interactive Recommended List Plus tool.