26 December 1997

Modern cereals serving growers better by far

Optimising cereal inputs

through the use of science

was the aim of the

Association of Applied

Biologists annual

conference in Cirencester

last week. Andrew Blake

and Robert Harris report

some of the highlights

TODAYS cereal growers are very much better catered for by breeders than they were in 1982, with feed wheat yields 15% higher and specific weights up 2.5kg/hl.

That was the message from Jan Ingram of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, who used "link" varieties to compare modern cereals with older ones.

Variety improvement has raised yield by about 15% over 15 years. "That is worth £269m more to growers than if they were using the same old varieties they had in 1982."

Big strides have been made in quality, he added. Brigadiers specific weight is 2.5kg/hl higher than that of the leading 1982 wheat, Norman. And novel bread wheat Abbot is 1.6kg/hl better than Avalon.

Better still are the Hagberg scores, he pointed out. Abbot is 26 points up on Avalon and Brigadier is 75 higher.

There is a similar picture in winter barley, where Dr Ingram used todays Regina as the example. As a malter its yield is 16% ahead of Tipper, the number one variety in 1982. It also stands better, with a lodging score of 9 against 5, and has a much higher hot water extract at 308, 11 points up on Tipper.

"Despite what the nostalgia merchants tell you, Regina is better than Maris Otter," he said. Although only three points down on hot water extract, the latter is well adrift on yield and resistance to lodging, he noted.

Triumph, the highest yielding spring barley in 1982 and IOB approved as a malter, would struggle to get that accolade if introduced today, Dr Ingram suggested. Optic has a 16% yield edge, fewer screenings because of higher 1000 grain weight, and substantially better hot water extract. Triumph was neither as stiff strawed nor as early.

Questioned about maintaining yield progress, Dr Ingram agreed hybrids are one route. But if later harvests became more the norm, breeders might be better able to exploit the largely untapped photosynthetic potential of the month of August.

"At present most of the yield is accumulated in June and July."

Plant breeding has added 15% to cereal yields over the past 15 years and boosted grain quality too, says NIABs Jan Ingram. The result is a £269m rise in farm incomes over that period.