Three well-known conventional varieties topped the results of the Organic Crops Demonstration wheat trials, despite not having all the preferred growth characteristics for organic production.

Claire, Hereward and Istabraq all gave robust and consistent results across the three sites, says Abacus Organic’s Martin Todman.

“Hereward is particularly interesting, performing well in organic systems, even though it doesn’t tiller profusely and has an upright growth habit.

But it compensates with very good tiller retention.”

Ideally, organic varieties, in addition to tillering profusely, will have a prostrate growth habit, broad, reflexed leaves and be tall-strawed, he says.

Spring varieties such as Paragon, Tybalt, Chablis and Amaretto fit the bill, as well as a German winter variety Naturastar.

“If a variety does not have these factors, then it has to be managed in a certain way,” he adds.

“That is particularly important if the crop is being grown in wide rows, as it will tiller less.”

Achieving Hagbergs of over 250 proved to be easier than getting grain protein of over 11% in the trials.

Yields at the three sites ranged from 5.05t/ha to 7.03t/ha.

“There was tremendous site variation, and there were instances where the spring wheats yielded as well as winter wheats.

“Of particular interest was the adaptability of Istabraq to a wide range of conditions. It’s one to consider for organic production.”

Margins

Net margins varied considerably across the trials, says his colleague Stephen Briggs.

“Final net margins ranged from 77/ha right up to 800/ha.

A typical break-even figure is 400/ha.

“But you must remember it is just one crop in the rotation.

Margins obviously need to be averaged across the whole rotation, which will probably include one or two years of non-crop production while building fertility.”

The highest margin was achieved at the new site at Driffield, in Yorkshire, by a first wheat Claire following peas, which yielded 8.2t/ha and made 140/t ex-farm.

“After cultivation costs of 212/ha at the site, and 130/ha variable costs, the net margin was 800/ha.”

The lowest net margin came at Barton, Cambs, where varieties were not drilled until February.

“Hereward was out of its normal agronomic position, and only yielded 2t/ha, although surprisingly another winter variety Istabraq did well.”

Top performance was from the spring wheat Paragon.

At each site half the plots were weeded, while the others were left.

“At Barton there was some recreational weeding going on,” he says.

“Margins and yields suffered because the weeding damaged plants.”

About a third of a tonne was knocked off yield, which cost about 50/ha in return.

In Wiltshire, where the average net margin was 448/ha, after cultivations came to 226/ha, top honours went to Hereward, with a net margin 654/ha.

“That was with a yield of 6.2t/ha, a protein content of 12.1% and a Hagberg of 208,” Mr Briggs says.

Derogation

New organic compound feed regulations, which came into force at the end of August, have stimulated the organic grain market.

Nigel Gossett of Organic Grain Link believes the feed derogation has had a positive effect.

“Price levels are better.

Compounders now have to use organic raw materials if they are available and inclusion levels of non-organic ingredients have been reduced.”

That has created opportunities for barley, triticale, oats, beans and feed wheat, he confirms.

“Some of these crops are very difficult to come by at the moment.

There are contracts for oats at 125-135/t ex-farm out there this season.”

The UK is only 60% self-sufficient in organic grain, says Mr Gossett.

“When you consider organic retail sales are growing strongly, it is not surprising that we have to import grain to meet demand.”

Organic dairy farmers are starting to increase their feeding regimes, he adds.

“That is creating even stronger demand for grain.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about organic grain production.”

fwarable@rbi.co.uk