29 May 1998

Hybrids could be timely fillip for wheat in 2000

By Edward Long

HYBRID wheat should be commercially available to UK growers in time for the expansion of the cereal crop when Agenda 2000 reforms are implemented.

Their improved vigour, particularly on more marginal sites and in second and third wheat positions, could give growers a timely boost, says breeder Nickerson.

Cockpit, which was bred in France by Hybritech, is being developed in the UK by the Lincs-based company. It is in its second year of official trials with NIAB. It is already national listed in France and will be commercially available there this autumn.

Although hybrids already outyield conventional crops, the drive to boost output from non-hybrids means something extra must be on offer to offset the doubled seed cost, says Nickersons Suffolk-based wheat breeder Bill Angus.

"Cockpit is a bread-making type trapped in a hybrid. It is potentially a group 1 variety, with the ability to perform well in a reduced input system."

Previous hybrids failed because of their poor quality, Mr Angus maintains. "At present hybrid wheat needs a £5/t premium to make it economically attractive. A standard hybrid feed type would be dead in the water – the figures just do not add up."

In company trials in East Anglia in 1996 Cockpit outyielded Brigadier by 12%. That advantage was repeated on a larger scale in farm trials in 1997.

This year Nickerson has 40 one hectare (2.4 acre) blocks of it on farms across the country to provide hands-on experience of what to expect in a commercial situation – and to supply grain for end-user evaluation.

Mr Angus believes hybrids could take a 15-20% share of the expanded wheat market early next century. But he doubts whether they will ever completely replace normal types.

"By using hybrids as a second or third wheat on marginal land, possibly with Monsantos new take-all seed dressing, conventional types could be concentrated on the best land and pushed harder to extract more of their genetic potential."

Hybrid wheats could help growers maximise returns as more second and third wheats are grown under Agenda 2000, says Nickersons Bill Angus.