1 August 1998

AIMING FOR STANDING POWER

A plant breeder has 101 things to get right. Tia Rund meets one who knows what he wants most of all.

"IF a wheats going to lodge, its going to do it on the rich soils around here," says Stephen Smith of Downham Market-based Cebeco Seed Innovations.

"This is really high-yielding wheat land, topping 13t/ha. Even with a full pgr programme, it will expose any weaknesses in straw strength."

On the basis of what he screens from the companys fenland trial plots, Mr Smith, who heads its wheat breeding programme, would have discarded even varieties such as Rialto long before they made it through the breeding process.

"Grain quality is an important factor even in feed wheats. And the lower the wheat price, the greater the impact of deductions," he says.

Not surprisingly, standing power comes high on his list of must-have varietal characteristics. And, just as his wheat breeding programme comes of age, growers minds have been focused on precisely that attribute after the second consecutive year of severe lodging.

John Ramsbottom, head of NIABs combinable crops section, agrees that stiff straw must be "just about the most important attribute for a wheat". He adds: "After a run of benign years up until 1996, growers might have been lulled into believing that they didnt need stiff straw."

From its UK programme which began in 1992, the first two varieties from Cebeco Seed Innovations are in year one of National List trials. One is a hard endosperm feed type, the other has breadmaking potential – both are very stiff strawed.

With the company traditionally associated with pulse varieties, the progress of these fledgling cereal varieties will be followed with interest.

The feed wheat, a Vivant x Estica cross, looks to be yielding about a percentage point above Savannah. Zeleny should be good enough for it to pass for intervention.

It inherits very good yellow rust resistance from Estica which, says Mr Smith, is a proven durable source of resistance. Neither it nor the potential breadmaker, which is Piccadilly x Vivant, suffered any infection in NIABs artificially inoculated open polytunnel trials.

Part of the breeders job is determining end user acceptance. Initial indications from the millers suggest SIL 25782-5 has potential – its success will hinge on its ability to yield. Last year it was slightly ahead of Hereward in the companys own assessment.

Varieties from the Dutch breeding arm of the Cebeco stable, being targeted largely at the German market, have never really made the grade over here. Curiously Ritmo, whose parents are UK varieties, is not popular in this country, though it forms the cornerstone of Cebecos 10% share of the European wheat seed market.

The original crosses for both the NL1 varieties took place in the Netherlands, although all the subsequent crosses were made in Norfolk.

The real thrill for Mr Smith comes when he decides which varieties should be entered for next years NL1 series. He has 30 to choose from and, this time, theyre his crosses, and his alone.