Quality wheat is result of skill and dedication
Growing good milling wheat takes skill and dedication. Robert Harris discovers this years Quality Wheat Grower of the Year from Cambs has plenty of both
GREG BLISS is Quality Wheat Grower of the Year 1995. The Cambridgeshire grower, who farms two holdings, Ermine Lodge and Engine Farm, near Stilton, took top honours in a closely fought contest between six finalists.
His enthusiasm for milling wheats, borne out in the field and in his award-winning sample of grain, won him first prize in the competition organised by Cargill, Rank Hovis and RASE in association with farmers weekly.
Mr Bliss grew different varieties on each farm last season. About 40ha (100 acres) of the heavy clay soils at Ermine Lodge were planted with Hereward. But Cadenza is favoured on the silty skirt and black fen soils at Engine Farm. Roots are the main enterprise here, and the variety yields well from late sowings.
Both varieties are drilled at the same rate of 300 seeds/sq m. Mr Bliss finds even late-sown wheats tiller freely on the black soils, so low rates are needed to avoid over-thick crops which are susceptible to early mildew and septoria attack and low bushel weight.
Mr Bliss walks his crops with an agronomist once a week, "more often if there is a problem". Autumn herbicides are used at Engine Farm only, and are based on IPU to control blackgrass, with add-ons to control as many broad-leaved weeds as possible.
Over-spraying in the spring takes out survivors. Knotgrass and cleavers can be a real problem, but Mr Bliss will not tolerate them in the crop as they slow combining and hold moisture.
Fungicides are tailored to suit. Low rates are used to remove early disease. The main timing is at flag leaf emerged (GS39), which is followed with an ear wash as needed. Mr Bliss uses easily available cheap materials to avoid the need to carry stock.
A total of 200kg/ha (160 units/acre) of N is applied late to avoid lush early growth. Mr Bliss avoids foliar applications to boost proteins. "It doesnt produce the type of protein the millers want." Trace elements, especially on the black land which is prone to manganese deficiency, are targeted using soil analysis.
At harvest, grain is taken to a local merchant for testing. Mr Bliss likes to store like with like to target markets carefully. Wheat making the grade is stored on floor, marginal material is assigned to bins for later blending and for sale to non-breadmaking markets.
Low volume ventilation allows him to keep grain dried on intake to 14.5% in peak condition. Heaps are also monitored with temperature probes to give early warning of trouble.