New markets creates north south divide for wheat varieties.
Growers in the east are well-placed to take advantage of the Sainsbury’s/Camgrain initiative, a long-term two-year contract to supply the flour for Sainsbury’s 360 in-store bakeries from UK farms.
“The majority will come from farms within a 30 mile radius of Camgrain‘s central store at Linton in Cambridgeshire,” says Simon Ingle, head of committed grain at Grainfarmers.
Group 1 and Group 2 varieties will qualify. “In specific variety terms, that means Solstice and either Cordiale or Einstein. All are in demand by the millers and have given consistent performance on farm.”
He is hopeful millers will also look at both Marksman and Battalion this harvest, as both have good potential as Group 2s, he believes. “Certainly, Allied Mills is interested in Marksman, so it would be good to see a bit of diversity within this group.”
Clare Leaman of NIAB agrees. “The millers find Marksman very strong. It’s early, with stiff straw and it has better disease resistance than Cordiale. Hagbergs can be a bit on the low side though.”
Cordiale is a particular Group 2 variety in favour and will remain so, adds Mr Ingle. “And that’s not just in the east. It is popular elsewhere, too.”
By 2009, there should be a new central store at Kettering in Northamptonshire, which is right in the heart of traditional milling territory and just 60 miles from Camgrain, he says.
“In this part of the country, you have Whitworths, Heygates and Rank Hovis, as well as three other food businesses. Together, they use 1.25m tonnes of wheat each year.
“So again, the Group 1 and 2 varieties will be in demand, with each company having its own specified choices and preferences. The quality varieties should pay for themselves with such a sizeable market on the doorstep.”
Einstein and Cordiale are now firm favourites with growers and end markets, Peter James of Frontier says. “They can command hefty premiums over feed wheat and yet have a role on farm even without them. They’re also both good second wheats.”
He also highlights the performance of new Group 4 wheat JB Diego in the east. “It’s done very well in this area and there will be markets for it.
“The other wheat variety to consider is Duxford, which suits the late drilling position. It could well take over from Xi19 where growers are drilling after roots.”
Solstice is not suited to very early sowing and should be drilled from mid-September onwards.
Seed rates need to be kept up, as the variety does not tiller well and early nitrogen is often required to encourage tiller retention.
Disease control is important, and particular attention should be given to septoria, brown rust and eyespot. In the past couple of years, strobilurin use has improved brown rust control.
On the plus side, Solstice has good resistance to fusarium and sprouting, both important characteristics in a milling variety, and it has a low risk of lodging, despite being tall.
A short, stiff early variety with good grain quality, Cordiale does have some disease weaknesses which need managing.
Susceptible to septoria and brown rust, Cordiale needs a robust fungicide programme and often has to have earlier application of spring inputs, due to its rapid development from GS30 onwards.
The variety can be grown as a first or second wheat and performs well when sown late after roots. Always early to harvest (a week ahead of others), Cordiale does well on light land and should be drilled from mid-September onwards.
You can’t go wrong with a Group 3 variety in the south, due to the strong export market, says Mr Ingle.
Mr James agrees. “Whatever you grow in the south, it needs to be of exportable quality. That means going for either a Group 1 or a Group 3 wheat – what you don’t want is huge heaps of feed wheat.”
The Group 3 segment of the market has seen the biggest decline in recent years, but is set to have the biggest gains over the next few years, he predicts.
“Robigus is the only current variety to have any appeal this year, although it will slip back a bit. It still gives high yields of soft milling wheat and it has established export and domestic markets.”
However, it should only be grown as a first wheat, he warns. “This is likely to be the last big year for Robigus, as there are some very good new Group 3s waiting in the wings. It’s a higher input variety than its ratings suggest, but it has the added advantage of being orange blossom midge resistant.”
Viscount, the leading candidate Group 3 variety, has already sold out for 2008 drillings. “This is the one that growers have been waiting for. Until then, they will have to make do with Robigus.”
Committed early drillers may decide to stick with Claire, believes Bill Angus of Nickerson. “Claire is still the gold standard for biscuit wheat. It’s a consistent performer and is proven in the market place.
“What’s more, its septoria resistance is as robust now as when it first came into the market.”
Robigus should be grown as a first wheat and needs a robust fungicide programme as it now has problems with both yellow and brown rust.
Its ability to retain tillers means that lodging may develop if it is sown early or high seed rates are used.
Both its septoria and orange wheat blossom midge resistance are useful, although don’t try and grow Robigus too cheaply. High yields can still be achieved with the right management.
The opening of the Cargill wheat processing plant in Manchester, with its demand for more than 700,000t of feed wheat, will create some healthy competition for wheat supplies in the north west region.
“What’s interesting is that there is still a serious volume of milling wheat which needs supplying in the area,” points out Mr Ingle. “So this new plant opens everything up.”
Growers in the north midlands are the most likely to gain, he predicts. “This Leicestershire, Derbyshire area was a graveyard as far as feed wheat markets were concerned, so farmers had to concentrate on quality varieties. That’s all changed now.”
Rising input costs will make some of the decisions easier, he says. “If you were struggling to get the milling specification, even with the use of extra nitrogen, then it’s going to be far easier and less risky to switch to a high yielding feed wheat.”
Mike Ayers of Frontier confirms the requirement for the Manchester plant is for a feed wheat specification of 15% moisture and 72kg/hl specific weight.
“All feed varieties are suitable at this stage,” he says. “We are not stipulating certain varieties or excluding any.”
The plant’s catchment area spreads from Manchester east to Teesside, south to King’s Lynn and west to Shropshire for the first part of the season.
“But it’s fair to say that the majority of the wheat comes from the western side of that area,” he says.
As the season progresses, the catchment area extends south and west, almost as far as the M4, he adds. “Up to 120 miles away is achievable.”
David Waite, northern seed commercial manager at Frontier, points out that the arrival of big, hungry outlets for feed wheats allows growers to concentrate on cost-effective production.
“We’ve seen some very good introductions to the feed wheats in the last few years. Oakley is an obvious choice, but there’s also Humber and Timber, plus others which suit different sowing date considerations.”
There isn’t a huge opportunity for Group 2 varieties in this region, he cautions. “There’s a very small requirements for things like Einstein and Cordiale. But there will always be homes for Solstice and for Group 3 varieties for biscuit and cake flours.”
After an exceptional year in 2007, the big question is whether Oakley can repeat that performance again.
Short and stiff with a low lodging risk, its one possible weakness is eyespot, which may need targeting in high pressure situations. Also be aware that it is susceptible to the Robigus strain of brown rust.
The first wheat performance of Oakley is proven, but the jury’s still out on its suitability as a second wheat. It responds well to fungicides, but keep an eye on septoria to ensure its best yields.
The Ensus bioethanol plant on Teesside, which is due to take wheat from the 2008 harvest, should create demand for high yielding Group 4 varieties in the north east region.
Grant Pearson of Ensus says that the company is hoping to secure 250,000t of UK wheat from the immediate area, with the remaining requirement coming in by road or boat.
“We’re expecting to have a total annual requirement of 1-1.2m tonnes,” he says. “Of that, around one quarter of supplies will hopefully come from a 75 mile radius round the plant at Wilton.”
High yielding feed wheat varieties are needed, he confirms. “Until we start using them, we can’t be any clearer on particular varieties. In time, we’re likely to be more specific.”
All the wheat destined for the Ensus plant will be supplied by Glencore Grain. “The plant will start up in the late spring 2009, so we’ll be taking wheat from this harvest.”
Another bioethanol facility which is due to come on stream by the beginning of 2010 is Vivergo in Hull, a joint venture between BP, ABF and DuPont.
“If it all goes according to plan, then wheat from the 2009 harvest will be going into the plant,” says Mr Waite.
The total requirement will be for 1.1m tonnes, he adds. “Frontier will be supplying this plant, so again there’s going to be strong demand for feed wheat.”
He advises growers to look for an agronomically sound variety. “Until they start specifying varieties or starch content, there’s no reason not to grow the highest yielding types. Just make sure they have good lodging scores and are suitable for your site.”
Animal feed outlets will also be competing for supplies, he adds. “It may have reduced in size as a market, but there’s still quite a requirement for animal feed.”
With its slow development speed, Humber is an ideal early sowing variety and has also done well as a second wheat.
Short and stiff, it is at low risk from lodging and can be grown on high fertility sites, but has potential weaknesses for septoria and mildew.
Yields are similar to those of Oakley, making it a high performing, low risk variety for most regions.
The market preference for a soft endosperm type remains in Scotland, advises Steve Hoad of SAC.
“That means Group 3 varieties for biscuit making or soft Group 4s for distilling, as together they account for 70% of the market,” he says. “In variety terms, not much has changed from last year.”
He picks out Alchemy, Istabraq and Robigus as the three key soft varieties. “Alchemy is medium to good for distilling and has good disease resistance, except for brown rust.”
Istabraq is high yielding, with a good distilling rating and specific weight, he adds. “It’s also quite tall with weakish straw, but growers have got used to it and it’s performed well up here.”
Robigus is fully recommended for distilling and biscuit making, says Dr Hoad. “Its disease resistance isn’t as good as it was but it has an important place as a first wheat, although it under performs as a second wheat.”
He believes all of the Group 3 candidates look promising for Scotland, especially when compared with Alchemy and Robigus. “We need to have a closer look at them this harvest, but it’s likely we’ll have more choice next year.”
He also highlights one of the Group 4 candidates, Lear, as it has a soft endosperm. “It might prove suitable for distilling. It’s got weaker straw and its mildew rating isn’t great, but there could be a demand for it.”
For milling growers, Solstice is the best option for Scotland, he continues. “With a good Hagberg, it’s more resistant to sprouting, which is important in Scotland. It’s taken Malacca’s place.”
Marksman could find a place, says Dr Hoad. “It looks of interest, due to its high protein level.”
Einstein is another preferred variety, as the millers like it and make use of it in blends. “It has good second wheat performance, which means it has a place on farms in the north. But root lodging can be an issue.”
There’s only a small area of hard feed wheats in Scotland, he ends. “Oakley stands out as it’s very high yielding. It’s the best option for feed.”