14 June 2002

Firm intensifies search for new light land crop

By Edward Long

THE prospect of wetter springs due to climate change has triggered a Norfolk company to evaluate alternative winter crop options for light land.

Historically such soils have been cropped with rye and triticale grown on contract, Les Sykes of Sands Agricultural Services told visitors to the companys open day at Gressenhall near East Dereham.

"With insufficient contracts to go around malting barley is also popular. But low premiums mean growers are wondering what else they could try." Among the options are conventional and hybrid wheat, and durum.

"Traditionally wheat is a non-starter on sand, but Xi19 is an exception," said Mr Sykes. "It copes with low fertility and performs well. It has the straw length needed to provide stem reserves to be a reliable cropper. It matures early, rather than dying off, and has potential to give high yields of bread-making grain. Deben and Access may also be worth considering."

Durum is also early maturing, even after sugar beet. Although it yields about the same as winter barley on light land it has higher premium potential and qualifies for IACS payments, he noted.

"Proteins and Hagbergs in durum were spoilt by wet weather in the past two seasons, so the jury is still out. But with a local market at Great Yarmouth it is worth considering. An EU concession allows the UK to grow 5000ha. We need to use it or lose it."

Hybrid wheat can perform well on light drought-prone land, Mr Sykes added. Current varieties were bred in France so should mature early. Plants establish rapidly and develop large root systems to scavenge deeply for nutrients and moisture.

"Seed costs more than conventional wheat, but less is needed so the cost is only a little more. Growers could be buying reliability. We have hybrid crops on difficult sandy soil across East Anglia this season. It will be interesting to see how they do."