Think carefully about variety choice and be prepared to match varieties to fields, drilling dates and rotational position, Mike Jeffes, a cereal variety consultant for KWS, said at the firm’s press briefing.

With wheat prices hovering around £100/t, growers needed to maximise output and concentrate on feed wheats in order to get the best returns, he reckoned. “That means closer attention to detail.”

He highlighted five different agronomic challenges for 2010/11, all of which could be overcome by choosing the right variety.

Challenge 1 – Disease Control

Where yellow rust was a concern, Mr Jeffes said growers must know how quickly they could get round the farm with a T0. “If you have susceptible varieties, then you must match their area to the number of T0 spray days.”

Another tip was the use of fluquinconazole-based seed treatments, which bought some time in the spring and helped to improve straw strength.

“It’s right to spread the risk, but you can continue to grow Oakley,” he said. “It’s still the highest yielding wheat on the Recommended List and it has orange wheat blossom midge resistance.”

But he suggested growing no more than 30% Oakley. “Good feed wheat partners are JB Diego and possibly Conqueror. The others are off the pace, either in terms of yield or disease susceptibility.”

Challenge 2 – Early Drilling

Variety choice was fundamental for the early drilling slot, as there were some key characteristics which made a variety suitable, said Mr Jeffes.

“They have to be slow developing in the spring, so they avoid early frost damage. They also need a high vernalisation requirement, to avoid rapid autumn growth.”

Stiff straw, good disease resistance – especially to eyespot – and high specific weight were prerequisites too, he added.

“Variety-wise, Grafton fits the bill. It’s 5% higher yielding than early drilling stalwart Claire, and it’s very early to combine. Another excellent choice is the soft Group 3 Scout, which also has OWBM resistance and premium-earning potential.”

Challenge 3 – Mainstream Wheat Selection

Wheat drilled between 10-30 September in the main arable areas had the greatest yield potential and was the easiest to manage, reckoned Mr Jeffes.

“Go for the highest yielding varieties,” he urged. “That means Oakley, Conqueror and JB Diego. Duxford is good too, provided you drill it after September 20.”

For export and premium possibilities, he picked out Viscount and Invicta. “But remember that Invicta only exports as a blend.”

Challenge 4 – Second Wheat

Second wheats accounted for 20-25% of the UK wheat area, so they had an important role in farm profitability, pointed out Mr Jeffes.

“Don’t drill before the beginning of October, use more early nitrogen and order take-all seed treatments,” he recommended. “These things all work.”

There had been three varieties added to the Recommended List in the last few years with good second wheat performance, he believed. “Grafton, JB Diego and Duxford fit this slot and they all have a yield of 105%. It’s time to move on from Einstein and Consort now.”

Challenge 5 – Late Drilling after Roots

For those with potatoes or sugar beet in the rotation, Mr Jeffes was clear about their best variety choice.

“Conqueror. Nothing beats it for yield in this slot. It offers 2% more than Oakley when late sown, has better yellow rust resistance and OWBM resistance.”

However, he noted that Oakley was the next best choice for a feed wheat, having also done well at this timing.

Consistency proves to be Oakley’s strength

Mark DoddsWheat varieties build yield from three different components, which was why some were more consistent than others, said KWS wheat breeder Mark Dodds.

“Ear numbers, grains per ear and grain size are the three factors involved,” he explained. “So Cordiale and Claire, for example, which have similar yields, actually produce this yield in different ways.”

Claire had high ear numbers and grains per ear, but a small grain size, he said. “Cordiale has fewer grains per ear, but a larger grain size.”

Oakley had all three characteristics. “It has high tillering potential, an above average number of grains per ear and good grain size.”

Together, these helped to make the variety robust and allowed it to cope with wide-ranging conditions. “Oakley has performed well for three years, in very different seasons. It is able to compensate and has the consistency required by growers.”

Oakley’s Successor?

The front runner for yield at 108% in the RL candidate trials is KWS Santiago – another high output Group 4 hard feed wheat.

Like Oakley, it has high tillering potential, above average number of grains per ear and good grain size, making it an exciting prospect. Unlike Oakley, it has a yellow rust rating of seven, but septoria tritici and eyespot are currently both fours.

“If it gets added to the Recommended List later this year, we believe it will occupy the top yield position for two years,” said Andrew Newby, the firm’s commercial director.