Sticking with a 20-year-old wheat variety is proving the right recipe for a Cambridgeshire grower, as breadmakers are proving keen to snap up its milling sample.

Martin Lines keeps trying new winter wheat varieties, but always returns to Hereward to win a reliable £20-40/t milling premium over feed wheat.

He can cut his fungicide costs growing the variety, while Hereward also offers early maturity and good standing power and he knows it will make breadmaking quality.

“We’ve tried growing other varieties but we always come back to Hereward as we can’t find anything that always meets the millers’ specifications,” he says.

Many new wheat varieties may yield better, but are not as certain to meet the protein and hagberg levels to earn the millers’ premium, he adds.

This price advantage is particularly important after a poor 2012 harvest forced millers to order imported wheat and so put pressure on premiums for home-grown grain.

Despite the wet harvest of 2012, Mr Lines’ Hereward hit the millers’ target of 12.5% protein and 250 hagberg and so found a number of ready buyers.

“As long as the premium is there, Hereward is always more profitable than feed wheat,” he says.

Mr Lines farms 170ha of heavy clay land in partnership with his father at Papley Grove Farm, Eltisley, some six miles east of St Neots, while the overall farming enterprise stretches to nearly 500ha including rented, shared and contracted land.

His three-year rotation sees two winter wheats followed by winter oilseed rape or beans, although a blackgrass problems on the farm is prompting thoughts of a spring break crop.

He is growing nearly 60ha of Hereward this season as a first wheat which has given an average yield of 9t/ha in recent years compared with his second wheat JB Diego at 10t/ha. But even in the poor harvest of 2012, Hereward turned in 8.5t/ha.

The variety generally gives a protein content of 13-13.5%, a hagberg of 250-350 and a specific weight of 80-82kg/hl, comfortably meeting millers’ requirements of 12.5%, 250 and 76kg/hl respectively.

It is a shy tillering variety so Mr Lines raises the seed rate to 200kg/ha compared with 170kg/ha for JB Diego, but not high enough to hit the specific weight of the harvested grain.

All seed is home-saved for the milling variety to keep costs down and because it is difficult to buy new seed for the old variety.

Drilling starts at the end of September to give as much time for controlling blackgrass by cultivation and chemical means once the preceding crop of oilseed rape is harvested.

A blackgrass control strategy of pre-emergence treatments of Avadex (tri-allate) and a flufenacet-based product is followed by post-emergence Atlantis (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron).

Growing Hereward after oilseed rape requires less fungicide and nitrogen than his second wheat JB Diego which, along with the price premium, offsets the lower yield for the milling variety.

A full four-spray spring fungicide programme costing up to about £120/ha was used this season as an insurance policy in case disease damaged yield and quality.

Mr Lines’ agronomist Bob Mills says they adjusted the fungicide rates as the weather dictated, but they were keen to prevent septoria and other diseases taking hold.

“The crops are remarkably clean as there was never the temperature to set disease off,” says Mr Mills, technical manager with advisory group Frontier.

Nitrogen use is around 200-220kg/ha, with the bulk being urea. Mr Lines shifts to ammonium nitrate for the final flag leaf application as it is more stable in warmer spring weather.

“The timing is very important as we have to give the plant the chance to get hold of the nitrogen,” he adds.

Although the wheat has recovered well from a wet autumn and late spring, the harvest is set to be delayed, perhaps starting in the third week of August, giving Mr Lines a drilling headache.

The late harvest will give him little time to clear the fields, cultivate and drill oilseed rape by the beginning of September, which he believes is necessary for good crop establishment.

This season some of the land destined for winter oilseed rape was drilled with spring rapeseed due to the wet autumn, and Mr Lines sees some clear advantages to this crop.

A spring break crop would give him extra time to control blackgrass in the autumn and offers a lower input crop with a good potential yield.

His spring rapeseed crop was looking good earlier this month at late flowering, and with no fungicide or insecticide sprays used this season it emphasised the crop’s lower inputs than a autumn-sown one.

But for wheats, Mr Lines will be sticking with the tried and tested Hereward which has proved such a hit with the millers. “We like growing the variety so we will be sticking with it,” he says.