19 October 2001

Hybrid wheats struggle, but theres better to come

HYBRID wheats deserve another chance to prove themselves after an extreme season.

That is the reaction of several growers after impressive earlier growth delivered only average yields.

But the vigour of DuPonts varieties was highlighted on several farms.

Richard Burnell grew 10ha (25 acres) of Hyno Esta on low-lying red sand at his 220ha (540 acre) farm near Watchet, Somerset.

Its estimated 6.8t/ha (2.75t/acre) was somewhat disappointing, but unsurprising given the normally free-draining soil was often waterlogged, he says.

"Consort 400ft up gave us at least 1t/acre more, probably because it drained better. But I am sufficiently encouraged to try a hybrid again."

The crop, sown accidentally at half rate, was sparse throughout the winter. "It also had rabbit damage and my father suggested I rip it up. But we kept feeding it and it came right back. I was amazed at its vigour. It filled spaces you would never believe with 15-16 tillers in places."

Robert Law, who runs 486ha (1200 acres) at Campfield Farm, Farnsfield, Notts, admits he should not really be growing any type of wheat on his blow-away sands.

"But we have irrigation for other crops and with the right season we can produce very good yields."

His 16ha (40 acres) of unirrigated Hyno Rista gave about 8t/ha (3.25t/acre). "We have had up to 4.5t/acre of Soissons."

The quality though was good, with protein 14.8%, specific weight 79kg/hl and Hagberg 270. "But millers are still not quite sure about it."

Riband and Consort, which do well on his Cambs farm, are unsuited to the sandland.

"We need varieties which develop rapidly before any drought sets in," says Law. Until last autumn his mainstays were Soissons and Isengrain. But after hosting a Fieldcare trial he decided to try a hybrid.

"We sowed about 80kg/ha in late October and it really frightened me over winter. There seemed almost nothing there.

"But development in early April was phenomenal and it came into ear very early – before Soissons and Isengrain sown earlier. So I am trying some again – 53 acres of Rista and Renta."

Four small plots of hybrids, surviving much better than Consort in the same January-sown field, impressed Staffs-based Ray Bowers. "Because of patches in the Consort Id say the hybrids probably gave 5-6cwt/acre more.

"We may be getting some more marginal second wheat land and I might have a hybrid again there."

But farmers weeklys Midlands barometer farmer Brian Shaw is unconvinced of hybrids bottom line benefits, even in the second slot. "Our Hyno Esta did 70cwt/acre compared with about 60 from Consort and Claire grown under similar conditions.

"But the seed was £20/acre more expensive, so you need 5cwt/acre extra just for a start. We also spent much more on growth regulators. I was going to grow it again, but there is so little in it I have cancelled my order."

Ian Johnson, manager at Oxton Estate, Notts, says late sown Hyno Esta looked better than Savannah in the same sandy field all season. "But at the end of the day there was not much difference between them at about 2.75t/acre."

With the farm reverting to its home-saved seed policy, hybrids are not being repeated.

French-bred hybrid wheats faced a tough UK test last season. In many cases they failed to cope with adverse conditions as well as hoped.

Hybrids should suit Notts light land, Robert Law believes. Winter growth was worringly slow, but spring progress phenomenal, he says.

HYBRIDHOPESONHOLD

&#8226 Extremely testing season.

&#8226 Vigorous early growth.

&#8226 Yields not outstanding.

&#8226 Economics questioned.

Current batch not outstanding

Hybrid wheats offered little more than conventional varieties in Arable Research Centre trials in testing conditions last season, notes director, Mike Carver.

In Lincs one hybrid outyielded everything else by 9%. "But that was not repeated on our other eight sites and overall none of the current Hyno batch stands out above the conventionals."

There are signs that hybrids do better in poorer conditions, says NIABs Richard Fenwick. "But we need a lot more information to prove the theory." The only hybrid in National List trials failed to join the latest 11 varieties in recommended list trials, he notes.