A new winter wheat variety is set to take the market by storm this autumn. David Jones reports.

Skyfall could become the top milling wheat variety drilled this autumn following strong support from the nation’s top breadmakers and millers.

In the biggest launch of a new milling wheat in living memory, the variety is set to take 5-6% of the nation’s winter wheat area and be sold out by Cereals 2014 in June.

Billed as the breadmaking wheat with the yield of a feed wheat variety, Skyfall has appeared to have shrugged off the setback of not yet being fully approved by the millers association.

See also New bread and feed wheat varieties tipped for success

Simon Howell, managing director of Skyfall breeder RAGT Seeds UK, says the variety is vying for the number-one spot in the 16% of the winter wheat area set to be drilled this autumn with breadmaking varieties.

“It’s going to be a fine line between Crusoe and Skyfall. We have enough seed for a 5-6% share and we are currently 80% sold out,” he told the Farmers Weekly.

Rival breadmaking variety Crusoe was added to the HGCA Recommended List one year ahead of Skyfall in December 2012, but Skyfall has a 4% higher fungicide-treated yield.

Mr Howell says there will be 10,000t of certified seed for drilling this autumn, making it one of the biggest-ever seed launches.

Lee Bennett, national seeds manager at farm co-operative Openfield, said Skyfall would be the best-selling winter wheat variety at his group for this autumn’s drilling.

Openfield has a bias toward supplying milling wheat seed varieties to growers, but the new variety is close to selling out due to the strong support seen from end users, Mr Bennett added.

Strong support for Skyfall has come from Warburtons, which bakes about one-quarter of the nation’s bread, and buys about 400,000t of wheat annually.

Bob Beard, cereal development director at Warburtons, says Skyfall will be one of its two top wheat varieties bought after harvest 2015, and adds he would not be surprised if it was the top variety the following year.

“When it becomes a main variety we expect it to be a mainstay for us. It shows a serious step change in yield and midge resistance,” he said at a recent briefing.

The variety shows the same yield as the most popular feed wheat variety Diego and it is the only breadmaker on the HGCA Recommended List with orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

He added that Skyfall has been “fast tracked” because his group had confidence in the variety alongside competitors such as Crusoe, Solstice and Edgar.

Group 1 milling wheat plus Group 2 variety Cordiale (HGCA Recommended List)

Skyfall

Crusoe

Gallant

Solstice

Cordiale

Yield

102

98

96

96

97

Protein (%)

11.8

12.4

12.1

12.0

12.3

Hagberg

271

243

291

246

305

Specific weight

78.1

77.5

77.0

77.9

79.0

Disease resistance:

Mildew

6

8

5

4

6

Yellow rust

6

9

5

4

6

Brown rust

8

6

5

4

3

Septoria tritici

6

6

4

5

5

Eyespot

(6*)

5

5

4

4

Fusarium

(6)

6

5

6

5

Orange wheat blossom midge

Yes

No

No

No

No

( ) based on limited data; *contains the PCHI eyespot resistance gene

Mr Beard said Warburtons looks for milling wheat with a 12.5% protein content, 225 hagberg and specific weight of 76kg/h, and he was confident Skyfall can reach this quality.

Another end user, ADM Milling, is launching buyback contracts for harvest 2015 as part of its “field to flour” initiative with its own growers’ club.

Skyfall has not received its widely-expected full official approval for breadmaking as grain used for commercial-scale testing was heat damaged after harvest 2013.

Martin Savage, trade policy manager at the National Association of British and Irish Millers (NABIM), said further testing would be conducted with the harvest 2014 crop.

“There is no question that Skyfall is on the Recommended List as a Group 1 breadmaking wheat. It is just that we are adding an extra stage to give us confidence,” he said.

Two fields were cut in Rutland and Oxfordshire and blended together to give 120t of grain, but some was subsequently found to be heat damaged and so the whole package did not meet testing requirements.

The variety will retain its provisional Group 1 status for another year, and further testing will take place in September 2014 and a final decision taken on its breadmaking status towards the end of the year. “It is still a strong, promising variety,” Mr Savage said.

Jonathan Lane, trading manager at grain trader Gleadell, believes Skyfall could help revive the milling industry and reverse the fall in the percentage of breadmaking wheats grown.

Assuming a £20/t milling premium over feed wheat, he said Skyfall would exceed the gross margins of all other winter wheats on the HGCA Recommended List.

“If Skyfall can deliver on yield and quality, it could revitalise the milling industry,” Mr Lane said.

He added the variety could help cut the amount of milling wheat imported, which amounts to about 1m tonnes in a “normal” year, as part of the UK’s national breadmaking needs of about 3.6m tonnes.

Celia Bequain, UK wheat breeder at RAGT, stressed that the variety will broaden the gene pool of the current popular winter wheat varieties grown in Britain.

She highlights that Skyfall is the first variety on the Recommended List with the PCH1 eyespot gene and midge resistance, while it also has good resistance to fusarium.