Higher grain prices and an emerging bioenergy market are producing strong signals about variety choice for next season. With Cereals just around the corner, we profile some of the potential choices:
The swing back to feed wheats looks set to continue as growers take advantage of better prices and buoyant markets.
Markets have always been important when choosing varieties, and will remain a key consideration for 2007/08, says independent consultant Richard Fenwick. “All the specifications are clear, even if individual varieties aren’t stipulated.”
Essentially the choice is still between yield and quality, he believes, even though higher grain prices have prompted a move away from milling wheats.
Quality varieties were more popular when producers were trying to add value to a very low base price. “They’re harder and more costly to grow, but growers will know how likely they are to meet the different requirements.”
Farmers should also consider allocating some of their area to the emerging biofuels market which offers a premium. “This market may be more relevant to growers in the north east, where the first plants are planned, but there are intentions to build a plant in the south west too.
“A soft milling, high-yielding variety is required. If you particularly want to aim for biofuels, then Alchemy, Glasgow, Robigus and Zebedee are some of those suitable.”
Where feed wheats are preferred, there’s a good selection of varieties with varying disease-resistance ratings, says Mr Fenwick. “Alchemy, Gladiator, Glasgow, Oakley and Humber are all likely to be popular choices.”
Solstice is Mr Fenwick’s tip for the quality bread-making market. “There’s market demand, it offers yield and acceptable quality. Get a contract, as they are around.”
Malacca has slipped considerably, he reports. “And although Hereward is the gold standard, its low yield makes you very reliant on getting a hefty premium.”
Group 2 varieties, which attract a smaller premium, should be chosen on their yield potential, he suggests. “Einstein, Battalion and Cordiale are all contenders.”
Soft biscuit wheats, such as Robigus and Claire, are also suitable for biofuels, he notes. “And it will be interesting to see what happens with the export market, where soft wheats are preferred. On the south coast, it’s an obvious route.”
Never forget local markets and transport costs, he adds. “The question is can you afford to send your grain more than 100 miles when there’s a need for it right on your doorstep.”
Andrew Newby of CPB Twyford (stand 814) says the potential biofuels market is the main change for growers’ variety choice next season.
“In many ways, it’s causing confusion. There’s no processing taking place in the UK yet, even though contracts are out there. No one knows where the bioethanol market will be in a couple of year’s time.
“It is likely that biofuels will become a local market – it will be too costly to send grain halfway across the country.”
Last year’s move from milling wheats to barn fillers was due to poor quality results in the previous year, he recalls. “We may have swung too far into feed wheats. Many of the biscuit types have been dropped, so we will need to protect that market in future.”
Mr Newby says the hard Group 4s have more potential uses than soft varieties. CPB’s new Group 4s, Humber and Oakley, both in their first year of commercial sales, fill very different slots, he says. “Humber is the obvious early drilling choice, while Oakley is a high-yielder suited for drilling in mid September, with a greater management requirement.”
Wheat variety choice is being driven by gross output at the farm level, which is why the Group 4 varieties look so attractive, says Joss Vincent of Nickerson (stand 315).
“The yields of varieties like Alchemy have put them ahead,” he points out. “And while the biofuels market in the UK may still be 12-24 months away, the world market is up and running, and influencing the base grain price.”
It’s not just feed wheats which are on the rise. Second wheats are also tipped to make a comeback, according to Sarah Middleton of RAGT Seeds (stand 316).
“Growers are looking for varieties which perform well in that slot, as well as looking for ways to improve second wheat performance.”
Battalion, RAGT’s new Group 2 variety, offers high yields, milling quality and second wheat suitability, she says.
“And both Gladiator and Ambrosia are proven second wheats, so should benefit from the switch to more wheat.”
Winter barley has become a more differentiated market, while the opposite is true of spring barley, says Mr Fenwick.
“We’ve said goodbye to the dual-purpose winter varieties such as Pearl,” he explains. “There’s now a strong division between malting and feed varieties, with some good choices available.”
For malting, both Flagon and Cassata are good choices, he notes. “The feed variety decision is between Saffron and Carat, with the six-rows also having a following.”
With spring barley, the feed and malt split has gone, notes Mr Fenwick. “Malting varieties such as Quench and Publican offer better yields than the feed types.”
Optic is hanging on, due to market demand, but Cocktail and NFC Tipple have taken some of its share. “These are good varieties and there are plenty more waiting in the wings.” Mr Vincent points out malting barley is now leading the way in gross margin terms. Two of the company’s winter barleys, Cassata and Retriever, also have BaYMV resistance, making them suitable for growing on infected land.
“Cassata is up for IoB approval this year, while Retriever is a feed choice which yields as well as the hybrids. So they have obvious market routes.”
Expect to see more market differentiation as niche opportunities such as speciality oils take off, Mr Fenwick predicts.
“For now, growers should go for highest yield and oil content,” he advises. “Oil extraction is the key requirement, whatever the market.”
There are plenty of good varieties to choose from, he adds. “The market is dominated by varieties such as Castille, Astrid, NK Bravour and Grace. But the hybrids are also beginning to find favour, especially where growing conditions are harsher.”
Semi-dwarf hybrids are on their way, he notes. “The plant model is so good that they will be popular in time. The yield penalty associated with them previously has largely gone now.”
Monsanto (stand 606) is launching four new varieties this year, each in a different market segment, reflecting this growing differentiation, reports the company’s Geoff Hall.
“We have a new high erucic acid type, Helico, which is a higher yielding version of Hearty,” he says. “It’s destined for the industrial market and will be grown on contract for two or three end users.”
A new HOLL variety, coded V1410L, will follow Splendor, he continues. “This is in demand from the frying oils market, which is looking for a healthier product with good shelf life. The only limit is seed availability.”
Clean land with no volunteers is required for this sector, which offers good premiums, he adds.
In the hybrid category, Monsanto is introducing Excel, which has a 9 rating for phoma. “That’s a real step forwards, especially where rotations are being pushed hard,” remarks Mr Hall.
FOCUS ON ARABLE TECHNOLOGY
|As well as the firms highlighted in this article, plenty more exhibitors are offering variety advice. New Farm Crops’ theme (stand 900) is “Profiting from yield”. As well as high-yielding winter barley varieties, plots will provide a first look at a selection of new high-yielding quality winter wheats.
United Oilseeds (stand 564) will demonstrate its latest OSR varieties, and the HGCA (stand 306) is handing out its Recommended Lists 2007/08 and is offering wheat variety tours. NIAB (stand 310) is promoting its variety selection service, while TAG (stand 305) is running a wheat variety trial arrranged in quality order.
Grain merchants including Grainfarmers (stand 816) and Frontier (stand 312) can also offer advice on variety selection as well as marketing.
Andy Stainthorpe of Pioneer (stand 804) also anticipates greater end use differentiation.
The company is exhibiting two different types at the Cereals event – both fully restored hybrids and candidates for the Recommended List.
One of these, PR45D03, is a semi-dwarf hybrid from the Maximus range, says Mr Stainthorpe. “The dwarfing gene shortens the plant and inhibits height variation. So you end up with a more consistent and predictable crop.”
That reduces growing costs, eliminates swathing need and makes the crop is easier to manipulate, he adds. “And the yields are high enough now to put semi-dwarfs in contention.”
Mr Vincent agrees the food market has a requirement for different oil profiles, which is why breeding lines dedicated to fulfilling this specification will be in evidence at Cereals.
“We don’t know what size that market share will be. But the healthy oils message is very topical.”
A quiet revolution in oats has delivered both new short, stiff varieties and changed plant architecture, says Jeremy Taylor of Senova (stand 318).
“The new variety Brochan shows this clearly with its compact panicle,” he reveals. “The name Brochan is Gaelic for porridge, which gives some idea about its end market.”
Other varieties to look out for include Tardis, which with its high yields will often outperform winter barleys and third wheats, he adds.
“It’s also done very well in organic systems, yielding over 10t/ha in harvest 2006.”
Increased uptake of naked oats in poultry rations is another success story, continues Mr Taylor. “The new variety Racoon is of interest in this market, as it delivers high energy from its good oil content.”
It’s not just millers and compounders who are interested in securing supplies of oats, he ends.
“There are premium market applications, such as body care and pharmaceutical products, and we’re expecting more innovative products soon.”
Growing for the market is now a key requisite for serious cereal farmers, especially as we become exposed to the increasingly volatile world market. Choosing the right variety is crucial – not only one that suits the farm, but one that is in demand, whether for a local feed mill, export, human consumption or the emerging biofuel market. Selling the crop is equally important, to reduce risk and boost the chances of a profitable return. Whatever your needs, there’s no better place than the Cereals event to seek advice.