4 September 1999

Contenders at the ready…

And lastly… our final two contenders for the World Class Wheat title show their mettle. Gilly Johnson reports.

Tony Bradley

ITS not easy to grow a consistent crop on this rolling Hampshire downland. First problem is the variable soil type.

Perched at the top of Tony Bradleys chosen field is a clay cap, which needs more cultivation to achieve a seedbed. But the underlying chalk emerges further down the slope, and alluvial soil sits at the bottom. So soil working has to be adjusted to suit each section of the field – which makes life tricky for Mr Bradley, and complicates the judges costings somewhat.

Second, the exposed 150m altitude, which curtails the potential for plant growth and development. This makes it essential to avoid establishment delays. Mr Bradleys target is mid-September; but the wet autumn upset his plans and the crop wasnt drilled until mid-October. It went in at a higher seed rate, but will this be enough to restore yield potential?

Abandoned

Agronomist Roger Bryan has his fingers crossed. "The crop was slow to get going," he says. But the wet weather did have one pay-off – less blackgrass pressure, which led to herbicide savings. The planned Avadex/IPU programme had to be abandoned, in favour of cheaper spring treatments. Happily, grass weed control is acceptable.

The farms five-year wheat average is 7.9t/ha (3.2t/acre) but this includes poorer results from second wheats. Following an excellent 9.8t/ha (4t/acre) result last year with Consort as a first wheat, Mr Bradley has plumped for this variety in the challenge field, as a consistent, high potential wheat. A robust three-spray fungicide programme included strobilurins, but not at the ear stage, to keep in line with new guidelines limiting the number of sprays.

Mr Bradley is reasonably confident. "Consort never looks that brilliant in the field, but last year came in well and surprised us. Lets hope it can do the same this time – despite the later drilling."

SUPER fertility is the secret weapon in Richard Bruce-Whites attempt on the World Class Wheat challenge. His field of Consort is sitting in soil which supported dairy cattle for many years previously. And last season, a huge poulation of tall rape volunteers were incorporated into the soil (dont ask why), which left a valuable legacy of residual N.

"The problem is keeping the crop upright," says Mr Bruce-White. "If we can, then it should be at least 4t/acre yield." Thanks to a robust growth regulator programme, all was well – at least up until July, when the judges made their visit.

Turbo-charged fertility works its wonders on weeds, as well as the crop. However, autumn sprays cleared them up quickly, even at modest rates. And being an ex-dairy field, grass weeds havent had a chance to build up.

Keen to go to the limits on yield, Mr Bruce-White was all for giving the crop early nitrogen in February – but was dissuaded by agronomist Peter Gould of UAP. Patience was needed; a warm winter had boosted N availability from the soil, he reckoned.

Seed rate is critical, on such a fertile site. Mr Gould advised drilling early, keeping seed rate low and letting the crop tiller. When the judges visited, ear numbers were at target and no row lines were visible.

A three-spray strob programme kept the lid on disease successfully. Septoria is the major threat. Mr Gould is yet to be convinced that the two-spray limit on strobs is appropriate, particularly if rates are kept up.

The farms five-year average for wheat is 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre); Mr Bruce-White is hopeful that his fertile field will beat this figure by a wide margin.